Mindfulness of paper art
Her stunning artworks are made from paper – but Rowena Roberts’ pieces look like delicate lace. She tells Kate Chapman how her intricate designs have been inspired by the natural world and her love of magical themes.
Using her well-honed cutting skills, Rowena can take a sheet of paper and transform it into a beautiful intricate design, capable of casting an equally artful shadow. Her creations – which can take up to 30 hours to make – include family trees, body organs and local landmarks.
Her artwork has been exhibited locally, near her home in Bourne and beyond, and her original pieces, prints and commissions sell worldwide.
“I love just being able to take a basic drawing, use a blade to take out the little bits, and then when I flip it over – I do my drawings in reverse – I still love seeing what the finished piece looks like!” she says.
“Magically cutting away all the pieces makes it look like lace and I love the shadows that they create when you hold them up, they fascinate me – sometimes they’re prettier than the actual piece itself.
“I love the mindfulness of creating this way. I can sit down and calm down, hours can pass, and time doesn’t matter. It’s just so magical, that’s why I love it.”
Rowena has always had a passion for papercrafts and art and particularly enjoyed making things when she was a child.
“I was always involved in storytelling, music and theatre, but even as a child paper fascinated me,” she recalls. “I would make origami, and things like that, and my mum would tell me off as there were bits of paper everywhere – when she opened a drawer or cupboard bits would fall out!”
Rowena studied art to GCSE level and went on to complete a make-up course at Stamford College. Her artistic hobbies fell by the wayside as she grew up, married and became a mum to three children. It was when her marriage ended that she re-discovered her passion for art and took up her creative hobbies again.
“I started out sketching and then did some watercolour and collage too. I was looking for a bit of distraction, something I could do around the children. I’d been a singer before, but that wasn’t a practical career choice. I needed a creative outlet, something I could do at home,” she says.
Rowena’s passion for paper cutting was sparked after she bought a papercut from another artist called Paper Panda as a gift and immediately found herself drawn to the art form.
“I was blown away by how beautiful it was. I really connected with it and loved the shadows it cast. It just really spoke to me, and I remember thinking – wow, I’d love to have a go at that,” she says.
Rowena began drawing her own designs and used a kitchen knife to cut them out. She got the bug for paper cutting and signed up to a Paper Panda workshop.
“That was eight years ago – and I’ve never really stopped making pieces this way since,” she adds.
“People say to me you must have a lot of patience to paper cut, but actually, it’s really funny as I don’t have any at all. I always want things done really quickly – with a household full of children and pets I’m constantly on the go, so I love that with paper cutting, there is no choice. I have to slow down and take it easy, otherwise it could all go horribly wrong – especially if you cut the wrong piece off, it could fall apart.
It’s a meditation and a kind of mindfulness.”
It wasn’t Rowena’s intention to turn her hobby into a career, but once she shared her creations online, she was inundated with compliments and commission requests.
“It was still only a hobby, but my children were growing up and it was getting to the stage where I needed to find a proper job. I loved what I was doing, and it just started to take off,” she adds.
“When I first started paper cutting, I would always go back to when I was a child. I was fascinated by nature – trees, birds, insects, the magic of it all.
“I always made up magical stories, and as an adult, I’ve never really lost that. I suppose I’ve got an over-active imagination and my artwork reflects that – it features a lot of flowers and trees, but I like to give them a magical twist.”
Some of Rowena’s most popular commissions are family trees – intricate pieces with family names cut into the branches, along with charms relating to the passions and interests of the family featured.
“There’s a little bit of magic all around us and I like to incorporate that in my work. I’m so blessed. I lived in Peterborough, quite an inner-city area, before, so it wasn’t as easy to be at one with nature, but since moving to Bourne around six years ago, that’s really changed.
“I’ve converted the conservatory into a studio. I’m surrounded by windows, where I can look out at trees, wildlife, birds. Everywhere I walk is so beautiful, there are so many green spaces. Lincolnshire is so beautiful – it’s perfect for me.”
These natural elements also feature in Rowena’s Botanical Bodies series – a collection of cuts featuring a heart, brain, stomach, lungs and uterus, which she made in response to her own asthma.
“I take lots of antibiotics but started looking into other ways I could help myself, including breathing techniques, ways to slow down and help clear the airways. A lot of symptoms are caused by stress and anxiety, so I started looking at natural ways to help,” she says.
“That inspired me to draw the lungs and fill them with flowers and nature – people’s comments when they saw my piece were so lovely. And as my paper cutting improved I did a brain, a heart and female body all filled with flowers and nature too.”
Her latest work includes local landmarks including Bourne Town Hall and Bridge 234, for which there is currently a local campaign underway, to save it.
Rowena is now looking ahead to exhibiting more of her work and is planning to host an open studio session at her home in the summer. She continues to share her pieces on social media and through her website and also runs workshops for others interested in giving the art form a go.
“It’s magical that I can take a sheet of paper, there being nothing special about it, but then take a blade and in a few hours I can have created something that makes people say ‘wow’. I love doing this and am so lucky.”
For more information about Rowena’s work visit rowenaroberts.co.uk
Photographs: courtesy of Bourne Photographic Studios