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June 02, 2023 7 min read 1 Comment

Kirigami – The Art of Paper Cutting

Kirigami is the art of paper cutting, which originated in Japan. The term "kirigami" is a combination of two Japanese words: "kiri" meaning "cut," and "gami" meaning "paper." It is like origami, the art of paper folding, but in kirigami, the paper is both folded and cut. The specific term "kirigami" was not used throughout the entire history of paper cutting in Japan. The term itself is a relatively modern term, coined in the 1960’s.

The history of kirigami dates back hundreds of years. Paper was introduced to Japan in the 6th century, and the art of paper cutting evolved alongside the practice of paper folding. In ancient times, paper cutting was primarily used for ceremonial and religious purposes. Elaborate paper cut designs were used to decorate shrines, temples, and other important buildings.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), kirigami became more widespread and was practiced by people of various social classes. It was used to create decorative paper ornaments, including flowers, animals, and geometric patterns. These paper crafts were often displayed during festivals and special occasions.

In the 19th century, the popularity of kirigami spread beyond Japan, particularly through the influence of Japanese trade and cultural exchange. Artists and enthusiasts from different parts of the world started incorporating kirigami techniques into their own artistic practices.

In recent times, kirigami has gained global recognition as an art form. It has found applications in various fields, including architecture, fashion, product design, and even scientific research. Kirigami-inspired designs have been used to create intricate pop-up books, greeting cards, and architectural structures that can expand and contract.

Kirigami continues to evolve and in the playing card world it’s used to create magnificent pieces of art with decks of playing cards. We sat down with our friend, Kyle McIntosh – Deck Cuts, to learn more about his passion for kirigami and the process he uses to produce these unique collectors’ items.

Kyle is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where he’s been for just the last few months but was born and raised in the city. He spent many years in Manitoba before moving back this year. For the past two years he’s been a full-time professional artist, while for many years it was a part-time profession.

Kyle’s grandfather, who was a painter, is his biggest inspiration and got the juices flowing for him at an early age. Kyle’s passion for sketching started when he was about six years old and continued through his school age years. Sketching was his outlet as he dreamt of being an animator one day. While he’s not an animator, Kyle is finding ways to make a difference. He’s in the process of opening a family pshychology and intensive literacy clinic with his fiancé. There he'll be a reading and spelling instructor for children with learning disabilities.

As for deck cutting, back in around 1991-1992 he started cutting using hockey cards as a way to make something with all of his duplicates in his collection. He created 3D images out of them by cutting and stacking the images to give them depth. At the time he hadn’t seen anyone doing it, but he just thought it would be fun and interesting. Then over the years he saw some interesting shadow box art in galleries that used tuck boxes from Bicycle decks as the shadow box frame. Years later he was in a card collector group and saw some of Dan Levin’s work with playing cards and his unique abstract style. Seeing all the new custom cards hitting the market I decided I should try something like what he had done with the hockey cards, by bringing the back designs themselves to life. “Rather than going the abstract route that Dan was a master of, I wanted to do something different and so “Deck Cuts” was born.” 

It's not just playing cards he cuts; he’s still doing sports cards by commission and he’s also done Pokemon and Magic the Gathering cards. Along with that, he also creates magic gaffs and gimmicks. According to Kyle, it seems he “just can’t stop myself from cutting up cards somehow.”

As for artistic influences, Kyle credits Salvador Dali as his longtime inspiration.

“Thinking beyond the obvious and daring to be different and original is something I learned from his work. The work of Vincent Van Gogh is also art that I’ve always found to be good for the soul.”

I know I’ve always been amazed at the final produce Kyle produces and I’ve always wondered how long it takes to get to that finished state. Well, according to Kyle, the time it takes to finish a cut can range depending on the intricacies of the design. On overage each deck takes seven to ten hours to complete. With that said, the longest one to cut took twenty-two hours to complete! By his own admission, Kyle is a bit of a perfectionist, so he doesn’t rush things.

If deck cutting is still a mystery to you, let’s hear directly from Kyle on what the process looks like for him. I often tell people it’s like a scene in the Karate Kid when Mr. Miagi tells Daniel to close his eyes and picture a tree. Then tells him to open his eyes and create the image of the tree using a bonsai tree. For me, I look at a design until an image comes to mind of what I want it to look like completed and what the designer’s vision may have been as they created the artwork. I then start cutting and bring that vision to life.”That’s easier said than done, I’m sure!

The most stressful part of doing kirigami according to Kyle, is doing the tuck box frame. His inspiration for doing this was the shadow box art we mentioned earlier. “With the cards themselves you have multiple chances if you have a slip of the blade, whereas with the tuck you have one shot or you’re buying another deck, which can get pricey when some decks I have done are selling for upwards of $800 on the collector market.” 

We asked Kyle if deck cutting could be for anyone and what they needed to keep in mind if they wanted to get started. His advice is so important in kirigami and any artform: “Be original. Find a way to stand out. Don’t copy how others have cut decks, but rather be inspired by others. Take your time. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice (I’m always ready to help). Give credit to those that inspire you. Buy bandaids.”

This sage advice didn’t just appear to Kyle in a dream, he learned these things after doing many many deck cuts. But it all started with the Bicycle Arc Angels by Theory11. He doesn’t have a favorite deck he’s cut, but one of his favorites is Stockholm 17’s Keymaster Tarot Deck. Lorenzo commissioned him to cut that for him. At the time, Kyle was dealing with the passing of his wife, so he was able to pour all of his emotions into that piece. The process was very cleansing according to Kyle.  Another favorite deck cut Kyle did is the Emperor deck by Penguin Magic and Mark Stutzman, which was his 100th cut deck. Kyle says that “each cut has something special about it or a memory attached to it. The Scarlet Wonders by Wondercraft will also always have a special place in my heart for a few very significant reasons.”

One thing Kyle loves about the playing card industry is friendships. “I’ve had the honor of meeting and becoming close friends with so many amazing people through our mutual love of playing cards and the different aspects of the playing card industry. Many of whom I now consider family.” 

Kyle and I worked together for the first time on the Wonder Playing Cards campaigns. I commissioned Kyle to do some special cuts on those campaigns for just a few backers each time. He created such unique and visionary pieces of art. Kyle says, “I was thrilled to be brought on board for the Wonder campaigns. The design of them was absolutely made to be cut into a 3D image. While I had done one deck for another campaign, Wonder was the first multiple cut campaign. I had approached many designers over the years about doing cuts as add-ons and couldn’t have imagined a better deck to really blaze the trail on Kickstarter for Deck Cuts being available in the campaign. What I never anticipated was how fast we sold out each time. I look forward to working together more on future projects.

Kyle stays busy cutting decks and is currently working on a collaboration with Ergo Kiwi (the maker of the knife handles he uses) and Jack Daniels. He’s not able to share much, but what he was able to share is that there will be a limited number of unique knife handles created with some very special wood, which will include a Deck Cut which matches the theme of the knife. I know we can’t wait to see this come to fruition!

One thing you might not know about Kyle is that he’s a published nature photographer, rum geek, and firmly believes that it’s perfectly fine to put pineapple on a pizza! Kyle’s one of the nicest people in the playing card industry and has really put his mark on the collecting world with these unique and inspiring pieces of art he creates.

If you want to check out all of his work, find him on Instagram at @deck.cuts or on search on Facebook for Deck Cuts.

I want to thank Kyle for the time he spent helping put this article together and I look forward to his next amazing creations!

What deck cuts do you own? Which decks would you like to see made into these unique pieces of art? Let us know in the comments. 

1 Response

David Riley
David Riley

June 04, 2023

After reading this article, I felt compelled to share that Kyle’s 3D Cut cards are amazing, At this time I have a baker’s dozen of his deck cuts, and everyone is mesmerizing to the senses. The quality and detail he puts into his 3D cut decks is unparalleled. As a private collector, I feel privileged to have some of his deck cuts at the forefront of my collection displays. Not only do you see Kyles work, but you benefit by seeing another perspective of each artist who created the decks. My personal thought: Kyles 3D decks add a whole new way of seeing the deck and into the artists’ mind. He is a fine person and talented artist!

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