A peek inside the world of paper-cutting artist Felicia Gilman
‘Paper is one of the easiest things you can get your hands on,” observes Felicia Gilman, whose cut-paper creations have developed their own cult following. “It’s accessible, inexpensive, and versatile.” Gilman might be describing her lifestyle as well. “I love thrift shops, I drive a junky car, I live very simply. I like to use what I have around me,” she says. With a brand-new “room of her own” Gilman has even more space to explore her tactile creations. On the property she bought last year, a free-standing garage has been streamlined into a dedicated studio space for Gilman to think, dream, make prototypes, and, above all, wield her restless x-acto blade.
“It’s my first real work space,” she says, justifiably pleased. Brand new and as yet uncluttered, the studio is lined with counters, an inviting chocolate-brown sofa and a central work space loaded with flat-file drawers. Insight into Gilman’s process and philosophy can be found everywhere in this studio, in the collections of shells, rocks and special bits of nature that perch at one end of her work table. Clear containers of scraps from prior projects, each organized into colors, wait for future use. A bowl filled with discarded x-acto blades acts like sculpture.
Dioramas with paper landscapes, four and five layers deep, are lit by their placement in a windowsill. Another piece unfolds time into space. “It was made from photos I took on a bike trip around town. I printed the photos, layered them and began cutting out the negative spaces,” she says. The result is a small fold-out memoir of her odyssey, glued and carefully cut into a lacework “storyboard” on to long strips of paper. “Every piece is emotional for me. Some are very deep,” she confesses. And all contain undeniable mystery. Gilman credits her night time “day job” at Ristorante Avanti with allowing her the freedom to explore her art practice. “My days are free, so that I can use natural light, and start early—I get to save my best self for my work.” Gilman’s face, framed by abundant chestnut curls, is rarely without a smile.
Originally from Ojai—“beautiful but conservative”—Gilman arrived in Santa Cruz to go to UCSC. She gravitated to the book arts classes at the Cowell Press before setting out to explore paper on her own. Gilman has a rare perspective on her life and work. “I know that this piece will wear out,” she points to a gossamer accordion of white paper filigree. “It will get dirty. It will eventually crumble.” And she will make something new. Probably involving tree branches. “I try to do other subjects, but I always come back to trees,” she says. “They have so many unexpected angles. What captures my eye are the parts that don’t make sense,” she adds, acknowledging the accidental poetry of making paper artwork out of trees.
“Having this big space now helps me be able to keep looking at work in progress,” she says. “I can think about it, see what it needs.”
Felicia Gilman’s raw materials are heavy printmaking paper and glue. “I love glue sticks,” she says. But the key is probably old-fashioned patience. And some serious manual dexterity. The process is meditative and precise. “It takes patience.” Mistakes definitely will happen, “but then you just have to problem solve. There’s no going back,” Gilman laughs. “You can’t be too attached.”
Her approach to her work is summarized in Finding Our Way Home, a folded book of cut-outs representing each one of the houses Gilman and her partner looked at, and for one reason or another did not buy. The last silhouette depicts how the journey ended—with the house they chose. Like all journeys, the book is both bittersweet and memorable.
For more about the artwork of Felicia Gilman, explore feliciagilman.com. PHOTO: Felicia Gilman’s characteristic paper art has gained a cult following locally. CHIP SCHEUER