Painting with Paper

Carol Flax finds inspiration in the pages of
magazines to piece together her works of fine art

Think of the skeletal structure and muscle beneath a horse’s skin. Or the light of the sun and the blue of the sky visible behind a cloud. Now think of the task at hand for an artist to realistically capture such dimensional elements. A painter, for example, could create these effects on canvas with the finessed movement of a paintbrush, using a palette to concoct the right colors and tones. It might seem impossible to artistically render the nuances of a subject without tools like brushes and paints. Not for Carol Flax, though. Challenging, yes, but not impossible, as she’s shown through her Cut Paper Mosaics.

As Flax demonstrates while sitting at her studio work table in her Yarmouth home, it is her hands, and her ingenuity, that are the keys to her artwork. The rest of her resources are simply a pair of scissors, a glue stick, and reclaimed paper. Using all kinds of magazines, as well as catalogues and calendars, that she sources from the Yarmouth Recycling Center—from design catalogues to issues of Cape Cod Life—Flax upcycles the papers, cutting and shaping them on collage board into representational depictions of landscape and seascape scenes. “I call it ‘Cut Paper Mosaics’ because it almost looks like the pieces have been fit together, like a mosaic,” Flax explains. “The technique is a lot like painting with paper. The way I cut paper and apply it is the same way a painter would use a brush to create an effect. The painter can use his brush in a particular way to create a texture or to create light; I have to find texture and light in a piece of paper and cut it a specific way to make it mimic the paintbrush.”

“Black-bellied Plovers”
27” x 16”

Needless to say, Flax’s creative process is one that requires tremendous consideration. First, she needs the magazine paper itself to not be so thin that it’s see-through, and it can’t be so glossy that there’s the glare of reflecting light. Flax studies the photographs printed on the pages of magazines and looks for specific colors, textures and shadows that can realistically depict her subjects. Take, for instance, the papers she’s used in recent portraits of horses: In an image of brown chairs she found the grain of the wood to be perfect for the hair, and in images of white feathers she saw the mane.