Wycinanki Paper Cutting Project – Guest Art Teacher

Rachel and I both graduated from Bethel University with Art teaching degrees. Recently, I noticed some of her students work online and was extremely impressed. I asked Rachel if she would be willing to guest-author a post for this blog, and I’m grateful that she was. Read on to learn more about her fantastic “Wycinanki” Paper Cutting Project.


“Wycinanki” Paper Cutting Project

My 8th grade students studied an art form from Poland called “Wycinanki” – Polish for “paper cutting” – that has been around for centuries. When Polish shepards felt their homes were too boring and plain, they would use huge sheep shearing scissors to cut elaborate designs into tree bark or leather. Eventually, they started using colorful paper. As time has passed, techniques, colors, and styles have come to vary between regions of Poland.

My students were given the choice between creating an exact (mirrored) symmetrical design or a radial symmetrical design. Then they were shown different folding techniques they could use to get an array of patterns. The students then chose from a variety of thin, colored papers. The students were encouraged to create a design first by drawing it onto a folded up piece of paper, then cut on the lines by using scissors and xacto knives. Students were given lots of images to use as inspiration, but they came up with their own unique design. The process is a lot like making paper craft-snowflakes but is, of course, more complex.

To start a radial design:
(If you are doing an exact “mirrored” symmetry design, only fold the paper once in half, then follow the same steps)

  1. Fold one corner of a rectangular piece of thin colored paper (or origami paper) over to the edge:
  2. Cut off extra strip in order to create a square piece of paper:
  3. Fold one acute corner to the opposite repeatedly until you get whatever number of “pie pieces” you desire. We usually folded to 8-12 “pie pieces”:
  4. When you cut, never cut from one edge to the other, or you will sever most of your design! The skinnier your cuts, and the more of them you do, the more complex your design will be:
  5. Open carefully:
  6. Next, we spray adhesive (extra strength) all over the back, and stick it down carefully to a different colored piece of paper (roughly the same size as the opened radial design).
  7. We then used an X-Acto blade to cut “windows through each opening, leaving a border of the second color showing, and glue to another layer:

9. Repeat until you achieve the look you want! I also encouraged students to glue small pieces onto the top layer as well.

About Rachel Saarela:

DSC_8935a (2)Rachel Saarela has been teaching middle school art for four years in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. Currently, she is teaching Ceramics/Sculpture 1, Painting 1, and Art Lab 1 at Anoka Middle School for the Arts, an arts magnet school in Anoka, MN. She loves getting kids excited about what they are capable of when it comes to art. In her own time, she loves painting and photography. Her undergraduate degree is from Bethel University. She currently resides in Andover, MN, with her husband, dog, and two cats.


Aaron Douglas – Harlem Renaissance Collage Lesson

aaron-douglas-collage-07 aaron-douglas-collage-13
To see more student examples click on the image above!

I taught at Crosswinds Middle School in Woodbury, Minnesota as a part-time long-term art substitute teacher for this summer – a mouthful I know.

The 6th grade classes cover African and Egyptian Art and the 7th and 8th grade classes cover Greek and Renaissance Art – which is a great way to make sure students are getting to see a lot of art without a lot of overlapping while at the middle school. When brainstorming project ideas, the other art teacher suggested covering the Harlem Renaissance since they often quoted (artistically quoted 🙂 ) images from both African Art and Egyptian Art. After a bit of searching I found the incredible graphics by Aaron Douglas. His work was typically ink and paper but really it translates well to collage or woodcuts.

6th graders completed this projected, but I would not introduce to younger ages because of using exacto knifes. This can be a great exercise for students probably 6th and up. Scissors are an alternative to exacto knifes that students may also use.


  • 2 white sheets of paper per student and one black
  • Exacto knives
  • Cutting boards or cardboard
  • Pencils
  • Masking tape

To produce Aaron Douglas inspired artwork by using a person/animal, simplified shapes, filling up space (I say black needs to be on all for sides of the paper somewhere), using at least one pattern, and large and small shapes. The first day I show Aaron Douglas artwork, we analylize and read a biography then I launch into the art making. My biggest recommendations is to discuss designs that may be too complex before starting assignment – perhaps even limit number of shapes to be cut – so that students don’t bite off more than can chew 🙂 . You should also show them that the black pieces or printed work should generally not “floating” but connected to another element in the artwork.


1. Students first draw two thumbnail sketches
2. One design is OKed and student may go onto a white piece of paper. The student’s design is made up of closed shapes and marked with paper with B’s and W’s to show which shapes will be black or white. I also show to to draw a shape that overlaps your drawing to reverse the blacks and whites.
3. Students tape paper with drawn shapes onto a black piece of paper and use an exacto knife to cut black shapes out of the paper. (Don’t forget to talk about safety and how to use an exacto knife effectively.)
4. Students use glue sticks to paste the black shapes onto a fresh sheet of white paper.
5. Students fill out assessment sheet.

Stay tuned! Coming soon!

-Shalanah Backus