Tissue paper, copy paper, cardboard, card stock, there are literally endless types of paper. All used for different things and each, for the most part, with their own purpose. Enter Annie Howe, owner of Annie Howe Paper Cuts, who takes this humdrum material and through mastered craftsmanship and immense creativity and style, turns it into fascinatingly detailed pieces of fragile art. We’re not talking about the snowflakes or hearts you see as festive decor either. Think large scale mesmerizing installations, detailed individual pieces with tons of Baltimore pride and whimsical fun-loving original creations with inspiration ranging from nature to architecture. It all started in 2009 with shadow puppets. Annie was working at arts-based non-profit called Nana Projects. The studio frequently put on shadow puppet shows and Annie loved the collaborative process of making the shows. Annie grew fond of cutting paper and she began doing it in her free time, making intricate designs for friends and family as gifts, and before she knew it, she found herself in love with the art form. Fast forward 8 years and thousands of sheets of paper, Annie Howe Paper Cuts is her full-time job with huge corporate clients commissioning her for work like hotel decorations, hot sauce labels, book covers, and greeting cards.
As a child, Annie never did paper cuts, no scrapbooking or anything of the sorts, however, she was always very artistic and a natural with painting. Coming from a family of artists including her great-grandfather, grandmother and mother, it’s only natural that Annie decided “normal college” wasn’t for her, and enrolled at MICA and graduated with a BFA in fibers. In the beginning, she grew her art-based business by reaching out to local shops and began learning how to accurately price her work and develop a style. Trohv in Hampden began selling her paper cuts and then started selling prints and laser cuts of her originals. She also recalls when she understood that this could be a profitable business “Woodberry Kitchen commissioned me to do a paper cut for them. Then, later on, they used it on teeshirts and that really helped me realize I could do this.” Early on Annie’s customers hired her to create pieces that detailed special occasions in peoples lives like weddings, new babies, and anniversaries, and then as she became better and more widely known, this grew into larger more commercial projects for restaurants, hotels, and even pediatrician logos. “It’s a niche market – and I’m always striving to do what I can, and to do it better.”
Owning and running such an incredibly niche business came with many challenges in the beginning. A common difficulty among businesses created through art is pricing. Annie explained that a challenge of hers was “having the confidence to ask for what you are worth – its super hard, but I’ve also gotten better at it over time.” One way Annie has accomplished this and received more insight on all things business, was by hiring a business coach. This also helped with the difficult task of planning her day, which is a challenge that many small business owners experience when they become their own boss. Another challenge that can get to Annie today is the comparison of her work to other artists. “You know, social media is amazing and all, but it’s also like this tool to constantly compare yourself to other artists – and seeing other people achieving things, that maybe you want too, can be hard sometimes.” Annie has tackled this by building a solid network of supportive people she can reach out to for help to overcome whatever obstacle is in her path. “Having a great network of supportive friends that I can call or email or text when I have a question, has really been invaluable. Everyone should do this!” She also explains that Baltimore is incredibly unique, and she is very thankful for everything it has done to add to her success. “The audience here in Baltimore is just really supportive and really appreciates unique handmade things, so obviously for me, this has been really great.”
Throughout her career transforming paper into works of art, Annie has had many accomplishments to be proud of. She’s been commissioned to work on projects of all sorts, from companies and people all over the nation to the many local businesses that use her creations in their marketing. Most notable to her are the unique book cover projects and the many illustration projects she has had. Also, in 2017, Annie won greeting card of the year for a holiday card, and this year her design, which is a paper cut silk screened onto a card, will be available at Wegman stores nationwide. Being able to do what she loves for a living is a huge accomplishment for Annie, “It’s something that I have to do. It’s part of who I am at this point. I really don’t know what I would be doing if it wasn’t paper cuts, I mean [laughs] I feel like I would be horrible at working in an organization again.”
When you are in front of Annie’s work, up close and personal, which is highly recommended, you begin to see details that you may have missed looking at it on a phone screen. Seeing the creation process is also really fascinating and memorizing. “A lot of times – I’ll read a quote or a poem, see a piece of writing, or hear something on the radio that sticks with me and it sparks an idea for a paper cut.” From here Annie beings to draw out her design on paper and then grabs her Exacto knife and starts cutting. The blades need to be changed often to prevent any tearing. In fact, she’s gotten so good that she can feel when a blade is starting to get dull. For Annie’s larger projects, which can take weeks, she uses a material called Tyvek, it’s very tough and perfect for intricate details. Her smaller projects can take only a few hours to complete. When you view her work, its hard not to be in awe, “I want people to be happy when they view my work, I want them to get something from it.” The amount of detail and thought that goes into each piece of hers is immediately noticeable and it is captivating to get deeper into the fine details and cuts that have been made to create the overall piece. She is available for commissioned work, so if you haven’t done so, check out her site! If you’d like to see her work in person, you’re in luck! On October 13 from 10 am – 6 pm Annie will be hosting an open studio tour, click here for the details.
Annie’s advice for other paper cut artists or creators in general:
For whatever reason paper cuts clicked for me, I loved doing it. It started in my heart. So if you feel really connected to something, start doing it.
Be nice! You never know who your next client is going to. It could be that person you just talked to at the store.
Have patience. Relationships with clients can take time to develop it could be months or even a year from an initial conversation about a project to an actual job.
Follow Annie on Facebook and Instagram to view her amazing work. Don’t forget to check out her website where you can even purchase your very own paper cut.