Like many children, when Jill Dubin was a kid she and her sister cut out paper dolls. But to make them more interesting, they would cut off the heads and staple them back on—resulting in heads that wobbled, so they called their paper dolls “yes-no dollies.”
Her mother never blocked Jill’s artistic energy, just as Jill never blocked the artistic inclinations of her daughter—and all three generations attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
Ordinary paper becomes extraordinary art in the hands of Jill Dubin—a style of cut-paper art that is easily emulated by children and can inspire some wonderful classroom activities.
With this fall’s release of Over in a River, Jill has illustrated four books for Dawn, each in the “Over” series of habitat books written by Marianne Berkes. Jill has a distinctive, light, almost whimsical style, and it all revolves around her collection of interesting paper. It’s a collection that allows Jill to create illustrations that are enchanting, somewhat stylized, and a whole lot of fun. Of course, her paper collection isn’t just culled from shopping bags and newsprint. Sometimes the “paper” is actually fabric .
In each of the four books, Jill has a page of Tips from the Illustrator. Put them all together and it makes a pretty complete guide to cut-paper art!
“I developed my cut paper technique because I really like to work with textures,” she explains. “I slowly found more and more really interesting paper and found that with them I could create textures that I couldn’t with paints.” She also discovered that working with cut paper was a bit like putting a puzzle together with lots of little pieces. One distinctive advantage is that “if it doesn’t work, I pull out some other paper.”
After carefully researching her subject, Jill makes a detailed drawing of each illustration. Using a copy of the drawing as a pattern, she then cuts the pieces she needs. The background is a variety of textures and each animal being portrayed is a collection of a variety of textures and shapes. Jill then spreads a very thin layer of glue to assemble everything. Sometimes she uses a toothpick to hold down small pieces. When it is all together, she puts the whole illustration between two sheets of acetate and presses it together under heavy books so it will lie flat. She finishes with colored pencils or pastels to add details, shading, and emphasis. Then it is ready to be sent to the printer!
Occasionally there are unexpected challenges. “I’m usually very careful where I put each piece down so I don’t lose any as I work.” But while working on the Over in a River I wasn’t so careful with the crayfish. When I was ready to glue it into place, it was nowhere to be found! I hunted on my desk, the floor, and even checked my sleeves. I was on the verge of cutting a new one when, happily, it emerged from the chaos of paper around me.”