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Short Stories: Roald Dahl Papercuts

Sep 13, 2012

by Roadside handmade and vintage goods

Here at Etsy, we believe that the story behind an object is often just as fascinating as the object itself. Short Stories is our series dedicated to telling the tales behind extraordinary pieces found or created by Etsy sellers. Here’s paper artist Jayme McGowan.

I wanted to do a series of pieces based on favorite books from my childhood, choosing just one author to narrow the theme. I picked books that I would enjoy re-reading now, as an adult, and Roald Dahl was the natural choice. I’ve always loved his dark humor, and the images his writing creates in my mind are so vivid — I knew they’d be fun to illustrate. Picking just five was tough, but I settled on Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG and, of course, James and the Giant Peach.

James and the Giant Peach

When I’m beginning a new illustration, I spend a lot of time sketching to get the basic composition down just right. Since there’s little room for revision after the paper is cut and glued, this helps eliminate waste. Next, I spend some time sorting through materials (an ever-growing collection of new and repurposed paper) to find the right palette for the piece. Having to decide on color at such an early stage is something that I’m still getting used to. There’s a lot of trial and error — making things, destroying them, and starting over.


Everything I do is cut by hand with an X-acto knife and different sizes of scissors. I use a quick-drying glue to assemble the piece, building up layers slowly and adding dimension with handmade paper supports. My work tends to be pretty tiny and I often use tweezers to place the individual paper pieces.

Layer upon layer, I build characters and sets for a miniature scene. I stage the pieces in my paper theater (like a diorama that is open on all sides) using thread or wire as necessary to hold the paper elements in place. Then I photograph the dimensional paper artwork, playing with camera settings, lenses and light. In the final stage of my illustration process, I bring the image into Photoshop for minor adjustments. I try to keep the digital manipulation to a minimum — the shadows in my images are actual cast shadows from the original photographs. All in all, it can take one or two weeks to complete a piece.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

My process is kind of ridiculous — taking a two dimensional object (paper), making it into a three dimensional object (a diorama), only to turn it back into a two dimensional object (a print) —  but I do love the unexpected results that can arise from it. I can’t make things look as perfectly as I would like. I’m limited to what I can do with scissors and a craft knife, which means I can’t achieve the same precision available through a pen or fine brush. I like that this often results in pleasant surprises, and hopefully, a certain charm to the work.

All artwork and photos by Jayme McGowan.

More Short Stories

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3 Featured Comments

  • kgpaintings

    Kirsten Gilmore from PaintingsByKEGilmore said 6 years ago Featured

    Nice work. I like the unexpected look which combines the graphic impact of a flat work and the interesting shadows of a sculptural object. Perhaps, though, I'm biased towards these pieces because of my love for Roald Dahl stories. :)

  • gnomesweeeetgnome

    a sparkly pony from shopSparklyPony said 6 years ago Featured

    These are totally amazing! It must be fun to immerse yourself in the little world while you make it! :D

  • glusk

    Tara Galuska from GluskDesigns said 6 years ago Featured

    I love Roald Dahl stories and your paper interpretations are just magical. Thanks for sharing your story.


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