Meet the artist who's putting papercutting on the map

Barbara BurkeOccupation: Owner of BBpapercuts
Meet the artist who's putting papercutting on the map
Close up view of my large River Liffey Papercut map

Old Head of Kinsale by BBpapercuts.
Old Head of Kinsale by BBpapercuts.

Barbara BurkeOccupation: Owner of BBpapercuts

What’s your background?

I worked as an interior design architect in the USA and Ireland for over 30 years. Custom-made artwork was often a key final step in the design of successful residential and commercial projects. When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, my husband, who is an architect/project manager, took the opportunity to work in the Middle East and our family took off on a new adventure to explore new places and new ideas.

Close up view of my large River Liffey Papercut map
Close up view of my large River Liffey Papercut map

Spending some time abroad gave me time to step back and decide if I would like to change my career path. Being exposed to new environments and new cultures made me realise I wanted to do something more artistic and potentially develop a new craft.

I came across the art of papercutting in the Middle East and remembered that I used papercutting techniques while in college for textile printing and model-making. Using a simple and natural material like paper appealed to me and with my background in technical drawing I found myself thinking about how to design and make papercut art that people would enjoy. When we returned to Ireland, I set about exploring how to make and develop Irish papercut art. In 2015 I set up my company BBpapercuts.

I didn’t realise at the beginning how personal my papercut maps would be for people. The prospect of commissioning a small piece of artwork that symbolises connection to home, or as a unique gift for a special occasion appealed to many people. I get a lot of customer requests from people who want to send a special gift abroad to family or friends of the town or village they’ve come from.

What’s a typical workday like for you?

I live beside the beach in Dublin, so I head off early for a walk with my dog and back again for 9am to start work. I open the emails to see what customer requests have come in, or what shops have placed orders and what the deadlines are to get them out.

I would do a lot of drawing work and design work on the computer work first and then I might spend a day cutting and finishing off a piece. I have to hand-finish everything and frame the pieces, and then it’s off to the post office to ship them off before 5pm.

Tell us about a favourite project or design you have worked on?

My favourite piece I’ve made to date is a papercut map of Dublin city with the river Liffey as the main focal point and all the streets surrounding it. It’s 1.2m long, so it’s the biggest piece I’ve done to date. It was very adventurous, and I spent a lot of time getting it right. Paper is fragile and the bigger the piece, the harder it is to get it to hold together – it’s about knowing how far the paper will go.

What’s your design style?

I like things simple and contemporary, not fussy. I like to keep all the papercuts as simple as possible.

What inspires your work?

Maps, to be honest. Our house is full of antique maps. I have always had a fascination with them, so it made sense to go in this direction with my work.

What’s your favourite trend at the moment -if you have any-?

I don’t have one. As a designer, when you see something in trend, you know you need to start designing the next thing.

What's your most treasured possession?

I’m not big into physical things so, really, time spent with people is the most important thing. The older you get, the more you realise that things don’t matter, experiences matter more.

Who is your favourite designer, or style inspiration?

These are two papercut artists that I admire for their skill and the intricacy of their work: Edina Nemeth from Hungary (@edinaspaper on Instagram) – she creates beautiful large-scale 3D models of streetscapes out of paper. Also, Rogan Brown (@rogan_brown_) makes amazing paper sculptures based on the patterns of nature and sea creatures.

What would be your dream project?

I’d love to work on a piece to fit a large wall with different coloured layers for the streets, waterways and rail lines. I’d also love to do a big installation with lots of individual maps of different areas of a city.

Have you any design tips?

My own tip would be to develop your own style by creating your own collection of things that appeal to you. The nicest pieces of all are where you can see people’s personal input into the design and with a story behind the artwork.

Instagram: @bbpapercuts

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