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The Chinese Art of Paper Cutting: A Step-By-Step Guide

Cut to the chase with our simple beginners guide to paper cutting.


Paper cutting is a traditional age-old art form, originating from 6th century China. We partnered with paper cutting artist Samantha Quinn (from The Paper Artist Collective) to create a very special design inspired by Chinatown London, which you can recreate at home with this step-by-step guide.

The Koi Carp (a symbol of perseverance and courage) and Lotus Flower (a symbol of self-regeneration and revival) have been carefully designed by Sammie in two parts with varying colours and patterns layered together to build the final beautiful artwork. If you fancy, you can reduce the level of detail in your paper cut by reducing the number of layers cut. It will still look awesome!

Click here for Printable PDF Templates


What Equipment Do You Need?

  • Cutting mat
  • Scalpel
  • Selection of coloured paper. Samantha recommends paper stock between 100 (0.08mm thickness) and 150 gsm (0.12mm thickness). Have a look around the house and see if you can find some everyday paper that you can use to make your composition unique. See if you can find any old magazines, newspaper, music paper or even book covers.
  • Masking tape or bulldog clips

How Do You Get Started?

Download the PDF paper cutting templates. The complete Lotus Flower is made of 4 layers and the complete Koi Carp is made of 3 layers. Print the templates on the reverse of your chosen paper or print on very light weight printer paper. If you have chosen to print on light weight printer paper, secure this onto the reverse of your chosen coloured paper by using masking tape or bulldog clips. Make sure to print each template at the same scale.

How Do I Create the Lotus Flower and Koi Carp?

Lotus Flower

The complete Lotus Flower design has 4 layers, but your design can look equally as great if you choose to cut just 1 layer.

  1. Start with the first layer of the Lotus Flower. Work your way through the templates working from the first template to the last.
  2. Start cutting at the centre of the flower and cut outwards, working your way round the petals. Remember you are cutting away the non-printed (or white) areas and make sure you cut on the reverse of the paper to ensure your work looks neat when it is turned over.
  3. Next cut the detail in the centre of the lily pad. Cut the centre of the circle before carefully cutting the external border.
  4. When cutting layer 2, start with the centre of the flower and work your way around the petals as you did in layer 1.
  5. When cutting the scalloped wave pattern, rotate the paper 90° clockwise and cut all of the long curves in the same direction first, before rotating the paper to cut the short edges of the shapes. Lastly cut the outside border.
  6. Use the same technique on the scallops on template 3.

Koi Carp

The complete Koi Carp design has 3 layers, but your design can look equally as great if you choose to cut just 1 layer.

  1. Start with Koi Carp layer 1 and work your way through the templates working from the front template to the back. Always cut the trickiest or fiddliest elements first.
  2.  Start cutting at the head of the Koi Carp and work your way along the body towards the tail. Remember you are cutting away the non-printed (or white) areas. If the lines are too thin and challenging, cut either side of the printed lines to make them thicker.
  3. Cut the outside border last.

How Do I Create the Final Composition?

You should now have seven finished paper cuts ready to be layered together! The Koi Carp works as its own piece of art or can be positioned on the edge of the Lotus Flower to complete the composition.

  1. Using this image as a guide, layer the paper cuts to build the final composition.
  2. Using a toothpick, apply tiny dots of glue to the back (printed side) of the layers to fix them in place. Place a sheet of blank printer paper on top and press down to stick the layers in position. The printer paper will stop you from damaging any delicate areas of your paper cut.

A Few Notes About Scalpel Safety:

Scalpels are very sharp and it is important to handle sharp blades carefully to avoid injury. Here are Sammie’s key tips for the safe use of blades:

  1. Keep your hand and the rest of the body away from the cutting line.
  2. Work on a stable, uncluttered surface, protected by a cutting mat.
  3. Do not attempt to catch a dropped knife.
  4. Scalpel handles can make your hands sore if you are not used to holding one for a long period of time. For added comfort, wrap a plaster around the scalpel blade and handle to cushion it against your fingers.
  5. Do not press too hard and attempt to drag the scalpel as this can lead to uneven cuts and damaged blades. If your knife is dragging this is a sign to change the blade.
  6. Replace blades regularly, don’t let your blade dull too much. This could be as often as a new blade every 10- 15 minutes. You will feel the difference once you have changed it.
  7. Take care when replacing blades.

Share your finished artwork with us @chinatownlondon using the hashtag #BringingChinatownHome. We’d love to re-share!

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