For many years, Karen Bit Veijle’s paper cutting art was just a secret hobby. Then she was commissioned to create window displays for the French fashion house Hermès. The first museum of paper art in Europe is founded by the Scandinavian artist Karen Bit Veijle.
For some 40 years Karen Bit Veijle had been neatly folding and tucking her paper masterpieces away under her rugs. She had been using a little pair of scissors to cut out elaborate scenes and patterns.
The art is called psaligraphy, which literally means the art of drawing or painting with scissors. She opened her first exhibition at The National Museum of Decorative Arts in Trondheim, Norway in 2008, and in few years her art has spread throughout Scandinavia and all the way to the USA and China. Her artistic work spans from the travelling exhibition Scissors for a Brush to commissioned work for several renown international companies, such as Hermès and Georg Jensen.
Fold and cut. Unfold, and your image is revealed. Who hasn’t cut snow crystals with scissors as a child?
As a teenager, Karen was ashamed to spend so much time on papercuts while others were out doing “cool” things. As an adult, she continued to literally sweep her art under the rug because she had no desire to advertise her skill or display her work. It was simply a meditative feeling of enjoyment.
While cutting she was listening to music and there was also a great degree of humor in her world of imagery. However, not always. Sometimes she confronts deep seriousness and themes intended to cause involvement and reflection. Her works are captivating surprise packages, evoking both astonishment and inspiration.
With her mother’s old embroidery scissors, Veijle, or Bit as she uses her name today, creates small fairytale characters, flowers and ornaments in the ancient art form when paper was an expensive commodity, and which has long been forgotten.
“My heart and soul are at peace when I have the scissors in hand and the paper dances between the blades,” she says. She has used her art to cope with her chronic illness, myalgic encephalopathy, a neurological disorder characterized by chronic pain and exhaustion.
Contrary to almost everything else in the world today, psaligraphy is a slow art. It takes time to master, plan and perform it. The works are formed from a large, continuous piece of paper and cut with only a small pair of scissors. Every single scissor cut is carefully planned, as the slightest mistake can have disastrous consequences for the end result. This is a slow art of painstaking patience that demands the utmost concentration. Which part shall be cut out, and which shall not?
In ancient China, a bride-to-be was judged on how skilled she was with scissors and paper.
Bit had a career as a television producer, but she was forced to take leaves of absence because of her condition. During one such absence, a colleague came to visit her at home. He knocked on her door, and opened it to find bits of paper littered all over the floor. “What in the world are you doing?!” he asked.
Three years later, she quit her television job to be an artist. Her ambition was to bring old traditions back to life, and now she designs logos for gourmet restaurants, blankets for Røros Tweed and porcelain for Royal Copenhagen.
Her magical cuttings are rooted in a tradition that has known a long journey through history, beginning in the first century, when paper was first invented by the Chinese. In fact, the Chinese started cutting in paper before they used it for writing. The art of psaligraphy has developed differently throughout the world but is particularly rooted in Chinese and other Asian cultures, and also in Bit’s native country of Denmark. However, Bit has created a personal style and technique that is entirely her own.
Since then, her works have been exhibited in museums all over the world, and her art has decorated the storefront windows of luxury retailers. In March 2018, she opened her own papercut museum in Denmark, the Center for Papirkunst.
Bit always, always uses scissors – either his mother’s old embroidery scissors or a modern pair of scissors from Fiskars.
The First Museum of Paper Art in Europe Founded by Scandinavian Artist, written by Tor Kjolberg.
All images © Karen Bit Veijle