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Papercut Art Shows Exacting Skill of Nikki McClure

Nikki McClure: Cutting Her Own Path, 1996-2011

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Using an Exacto knife, Nikki McClure precisely cuts into black paper to reveal a scene of friends, family and the beauty of nature. The images stand starkly against a white background, but there’s nothing harsh about these pieces. They have a warmth and delicacy that invites the viewer into a little world that McClure has carefully carved out: a pair of boots standing in swirling puddles of rain, a pregnant woman sitting by a stream, a couple embracing.

Nikki McClure at the opening of her exhibit, "Cutting Her Own Path, 1996–2011"

KC Cowan / OPB

A new show of McClure’s work is now open at the Museum of Contemporary Craft. It is a retrospective of sorts, displaying her art from 1996 through the present. McClure has only been doing her papercut art for a short time, following work as a scientist for the Washington State Department of Ecology. But her drawing skills were used even then.

“I did some drawing for them and realized that I could make a living at it,” she says. But instead of pursuing drawing, McClure decided to try papercut art. The clean lines and graphic look appealed to her.

“Once I did it, it was that lightning bolt,” she laughs, “where all the synapses were firing right. And it still feels like that now.”


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Nikki McClure: Cutting Her Own Path, 1996-2011

It takes hours for McClure to cut out her images. She carefully traces her drawing and lifts out what can ultimately be hundreds of tiny pieces of paper before the final image is revealed. Although she works from a drawing, she often does a lot of the very detailed cutting free-form style. She finds that easier than trying to draw, for example, every single seed in a sunflower pod.

Being a full-time artist wasn’t easy in the beginning; in her first year, McClure says she only made about $5,000.

“If I found a dime on the street, it was a big day!” she adds.

She’s come a long way since then. Her art has graced the cover of CDs and illustrated several books and T-shirts. Plus, she has a devoted following for her yearly calendar.

Looking at the exhibition of her work spanning more than a decade, McClure says it is amazing to see the evolution of her own art. She realizes it tells a story she didn’t know she was telling when she worked on each piece individually.

Both the Northwest and “community” are recurrent themes in McClure’s work, which often explores what may appear as very simple images of everyday activities. However, McClure explains that a papercut of a mother breastfeeding her child isn’t simply that image, but an exploration of McClure’s own desire to be a mother. She hopes others will be moved in similar ways, just as she is continually moved by what’s around her.

“When I need inspiration, I just go take a walk. The Northwest is rich in inspiration.”

McClure could probably make the same sort of images on a computer, but she prefers the painstaking hands-on method. For McClure, nothing is as rewarding.

“To me, it just satisfies something in me that’s very deep.”

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