Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Helen Hiebert: Illuminating Paper with StencilGirl Stencils

In 1988 I had the opportunity to take a brief trip to Japan that changed my life. I already had a passion for paper
– in fact, I’d been exploring the origamic architectural pop-up technique of Japan.
Coincidentally, my father spent that summer doing scientific research near Tokyo,
and my mother and I took the opportunity to visit him on a two-week vacation.

I was awe-struck by the shoji screens that I saw in the traditional inn we visited in Kyoto,
and I spent hours in department stores looking at paper products and packaging design.

I returned to NYC where I was living and set about learning how to make both traditional shoji screens and my own contemporary adaptations. One thing that struck me about the shoji panels I saw was that they were all rectangular, which makes sense because they are constructed with wood (which is straight).
My first shoji screen with organic panels
I started exploring book arts and making small paper panels with a simple balsa wood framework.
These were reminiscent of the traditional folding screens,
but eventually I came up with the idea of using stencils to cut out organic patterns.
Shadow Lantern made using a clip-art design for the stencil pattern
It was a delight when I discovered StencilGirl stencils!
I used the pattern in Michelle Ward's Spheres stencil to create two panels in card stock.
In addition to my fascination with paper, I was intrigued by the way that light
filtered through the panels of the traditional shoji screens.
I have adapted the traditional construction to create contemporary screens by separating the stencil cut design from a solid sheet of translucent paper with a balsa wood frame.
When the screen is displayed with the solid paper in the front and backlit,
a shadow is cast from the stencil onto the translucent paper, creating a lovely effect.
It looks quite dramatic when displayed with the stencil in front as well.
The possibilities are endless really, with options to use other stencils,
to incorporate different papers, and to create more than two panels.
I’m thinking that this particular panel might become a book cover.
Helen has a free stencil-based tutorial!
Click here and receive instructions for making a Japanese-Inspired Shadow Ornament. 
For more illuminating paper ideas from Helen Hiebert, check out her weekly blog called The Sunday Paper, which is full of paper inspiration:
Visit her website to learn more about her workshops, online classes and artwork:


  1. These are beautiful...I love Shoji Screens. I Have two in my studio. Thank you for sharing the ornament project with us. :)

  2. Been a follower of Helen's paper art for years!

  3. I'm in love!!! Brilliant idea, beyond beautiful results!!!


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