Elizabeth Shanks’s ArtBomb workspace feels a little like an art studio, and a lot like stepping into a woodland diorama after a snow storm. Tiny bits of white paper clippings scatter the floor like snowflakes, a handful of dried flowers poke out from a mason jar, and photographs of a thicket hang tacked up against the wall.
In the back corner, a large collage of white paper feathers contrasts strikingly against a black backdrop, the feathers carved out from the same sheet and connected by impossibly thin and delicate lines. This is papercut art—intricate designs and images created by cutting away sections of paper—a unique form Shanks discovered from artist Kara Walker.
“She was cutting paper with fluid cuts that seemed almost dangerous. That effortless gesture drew me to the medium,” Shanks says. “The fact that a simple white plane of paper can contain so much information by removing tiny bits of paper constantly amazes me.”
Shanks’ art education began at a young age: she carried wet prints for her dad in his printmaking studio. She went on to study art in college, eventually ending up in Greenville as a member of Anthropologie’s visual team. She was compelled by the area’s thriving artistic community, but also by the easy access to mountains and nature, subjects she finds particularly inspiring.
“When I’m cutting paper, I think about ecology,” she says. “To some degree, I feel a sense of dread for how humans treat our environment. So I keep trying to capture its beauty as well as express that building anxiety.”
CLEAN SHEET // Elizabeth Shanks’s papercuts are inspired by nature and the tension of human coexistence with it.
This urgency permeates her process. Shanks slices sheets with a standard #11 X-ACTO blade, each cut a fast, fluid gesture. She works standing, projecting original drawings onto drywall and free-cutting the outlines—she prefers the authenticity that manual cutting brings.
Though the process can be time-consuming, the end product is stunning. Paper as a medium is frail, ephemeral, and yet her silhouettes project distinct strength. This contrast is part of what makes her work so compelling—the bold and the delicate juxtaposed in almost-chaotic beauty.
“My work is all about manipulating images of nature for a strong composition. In a papercut, everything has to be connected by a little delicate snip of paper or the structure will be weak. I guess that’s sort of a nice metaphor for how I view nature.”