Elaborate paper cutouts have a long history, if not in the highest echelons of art
then in the quotidian province of folk art. In colonial America, paper silhouettes
were a common portrait medium; throughout Mexico, fanciful cutout scenes are
ubiquitously hung during Day of the Dead celebrations; and in the People's
Republic of China, didactic tableaux were used as political propaganda during the
Cultural Revolution. Before the computer, these shadow pictures were laboriously
hand-rendered, usually by skilled craftpersons, for mass consumption (and also
served as découpage scrap for erstwhile amateurs); today they are far more
easily, though no less intricately, fabricated using laser technology.
Despite (or probably because) it can be so excessively decorative, the
cutout art form has been currently revived by a young generation of designers
who have instigated a new (retro) style of ornament and decoration. The 2004
cover of London-based
Amelia's magazine, an alternative culture journal known
for its tactile covers (including one of scratch-and-sniff material) and removable
inserts, is a fanciful laser cutout glued to a blank undersheet and designed so
it can be detached and framed as a piece of art. In addition to the forest green
Arthur Rackhamesque tableau of pixie characters frolicking in bramble and vines,
each cover also includes a removable cutlass pendant by either Tatty Devine or
Reino Lehtonen-Riley nestled in an egg-shaped hole cut into the pages of the
magazine and the cover, sitting in a nest made of laser-cut twigs. Produced in
a limited edition of two thousand, the magazine is an object as well as virtual
gallery drawing on a number of special effect graphic techniques.
Amelia's die-cut bird's nest is not unique, nor is the insertion of a
surprise object-though a pendant is a novel notion (and not easy to do, either).
Die-cuts on book and record covers are fairly common; even so, like the most
familiar magic trick, they always have a special allure. Die-cuts not only give
the illusion of three dimensions, they actually reveal hidden graphic secrets.
Many are visual puns that serve a conceptual idea. Some are quite intricate,
with varied shapes and multiple layers of visual information, while others are
more basic. Of the latter, the die-cut hole on the cover of Seymour Chwast's
indie magazine
The Nose is the window/door revealing a comical man twirling in
a rinse cycle. The die-cut hole in the middle of Art Chantry's CD cover for The
Thrown Ups, which is actually the notched fastener on which the compact disk is
attached, also seconds as a woman's nipple. The hole in Curious Boym, a
monograph on the industrial designers Constantine and Laurene Boym, is a
spotlight on one of their furniture designs.
Die-cuts are not merely symbolic windows but real openings that allow
designers to expand their viewer's visual experience. While the technique was
introduced for commercial reasons beginning sometime in the late nineteenth
century, applied mostly to early children's books, and only later used for food
and sundry packages, it was also adopted by modern artists. The
Dadaist/surrealist Max Ernst designed a cover and back cover for the 1942
surrealist magazine
VVV in the shape of a woman's torso under which was
glued a piece of metal mesh fence through which was visible an imprisoned
female form. The cover accomplished an artistic context free from the
constraints of the bottom line. Nonetheless, this method of making graphic art
statements has influenced a score of commercial and semicommercial
independent magazines, from Alexey Brodovitch and Frank Zachary's 1949
Portfolio to Art Spiegelman and François Mouly's 1989 Raw to Joe Holzman's
2000 Nest—with others in between.
Amelia's is marketed to a small, targeted audience willing to pay the
additional price for ambitious production conceits and objectness. But
increasingly the interest in—indeed, the market for—constructed magazines is
on the rise. As long as the technology is available to make the old new, the
laborious easy, and the expensive less costly, designers continue to make the
effects happen.
Amelia's Magazine
Publisher/Editor/Art Director: Amelia Gregory
2004 Amelia's Magazine, magazine
ad: Amelia Gregory d: Scott Bendall, Asger Bruun Jakobsen
Published and edited by Amelia Gregory, London-based Amelia’s Magazine is an alternative
culture journal known for it’s tactile covers and removable inserts. Cover design on this
piece is by Rob Ryan.
Silhouettes and papercuts
Hole on the cover
Hidden treasures
Holes through pages

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