Featured Friend - Linda Toigo

For our first featured friend we interviewed papercut and book cultivation artist Linda Toigo. After working as an architect, she decided to swap buildings for books, and uses paper to create beautiful art all around the world.

Q: Hello Linda!

LT: Hello!

Q: So for the uninitiated and those who don’t know what you do, could you talk us through ‘book art’ and ‘papercut design’? 

LT: Oh, it’s a full world…it’s not very known where I come from, so everyone thinks I’m the only one doing it, especially book cultivation. But it’s a big thing going on in America, so there’s a lot of recognised book artists there. It’s based on altering a book, so taking an old book, or a used one, or a new one – any book – and considering it as an object and a material.

Papercut is very common in the UK and in a lot of other cultures because it’s a very cheap material. It’s been traditionally used in a lot of poorer environments as a material for art and decoration.

Q: So it’s quite a democratic artform?

LT: Yeah, basically. It’s used in the east and far east it’s used for religious purposes…in Poland it’s used for house decoration...it’s used as street art in Mexico. It’s used globally and in every country the style of cutting is very different, so it’s a very interesting field to study.

Q: Is that what attracted you to it (papercut)? The fact that everyone was doing it and there were all these different applications and designs?

LT: I think I just had a lot of paper in my house! So I started the same way as everyone else across the world; the material was available and magic thing about paper cutting is that everything is already there, you just have to eliminate what you don’t want. In a way you need patience, but I don’t think you need great skill.

Q: You mention that the actual process takes time, how long on average does it take you to complete one of your works?

LT: It really depends on the size [of the project], but the process of thinking about the work is equally long as the process of cutting, because everything needs to be held together by the other elements [of the design]. It needs to be carefully thought through otherwise it doesn’t stick together.

Q: So you can’t start a project and have an element of ‘see where this goes’, it’s got to be meticulously planned?

LT: For me, for the way my brain works and probably because of my background as an architect, it has to be planned a lot before starting. Some people can just take a cutter and go ahead, but not me. I need to know where I’m going.

Q: Is there any aspect of architecture that inspires you artistically? As opposed to giving you the skills to create your designs?

LT: I make a lot of landscapes, especially in my book art…and I end up creating lakes, valleys, caves, and this is somehow taken from my interest in landscape architecture and urban architecture. I was working a lot with big landscapes, territorial plans, level curves and all that, and during my study years I was also making [architectural] models, so the interest in small materials and using them to create three dimensional objects comes from back then.

Q: With your work in Taiwan, you were inspired by fairytales, stories, etc, but do you ever walk around London or elsewhere and see architecture that makes you think ‘this could be an idea?’

LT: Not really, no. I probably studied the wrong thing! It [architecture] gave me five years of my life where I met the right friends and the right people, and every element of my past is part of my present, but I don’t regret studying something that isn’t so consistent with what I’m doing now. I’m not really a fan of windows or sidewalks!

Q: So what’s inspiring you at the moment?

LT: At the moment I’m working on a series of anatomical papercuts. It’s something I started some time ago, but now I want to create a bigger series. I take etchings from Grey’s Anatomy – they’re very beautiful – and I dissect the images into different layers to make the papercut.

It’s a family reason for my interest in medical images; my father is a doctor, and I remember as a child going to the hospital and it being a familiar place. It was a positive emotional association, in a way. So all the images are something dear to my heart, for this reason.

Also I like the idea of working with a scalpel, the blades are in the same style as those used in surgeries. In fact, on the [papercut] blade it says ‘non sterile’, because they don’t want you to use it for surgery.

Q: So you’re taking your knife to a different kind of body, then?

LT: Yeah, that’s the idea.

Q: It’s a nice combination of form and content because the human body has layers in the same way that papercuts do.

LT: Yes, and it’s a good way to get to know more [about the body] – I have to choose, analyse and select the layers, so in a way I’m studyng myself and everyone else’s bodies.

Q: More generally, do you have a favourite project that you completed?

LT: Definitely Taiwan. That was a very special…I found out I was selected for the residency and I was panicking because I didn’t know what I was going to do! In my blog I wrote down my whole process and what I wanted to get from myself, and it was something that I was very happy with.

Another thing I liked doing was illustration for a book. I made big papercuts for a children’s novel and I had them photographed, so they were printed instead of produced as papercuts. The orignals will be touring in Italy to promote the book, which was a bestseller last year, so it was quite a good thing.

Q: Thank for you talking to us, and thanks for your time!