Paper tole artist

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Paper tole artist
Suzan Lee, from Philippines

Lee works with paper tole, the art of creating a picture to appear in a 3-D image. “Simply stated, it is the art of creating a picture that will look lively and realistic. In paper tole, part or all of an image is raised from the surface to give a 3-D effect,” she says, adding, “It is also called 3-D decoupage.”

The most aspirational project for Lee is to work on a picture by Anton Pieck, the Dutch painter, artist and graphic artist. To her, Pieck’s work is the acme of art. “You simply have to be at your creative best. You require more imagination and resourcefulness when using his work,” she says. Pieck’s works are noted for their nostalgic or fairytale-like characters. “The reproduction of the details in his characters isn’t facile work. I find the most difficult [paper tole projects] to be ones which use of his pictures. I am inspired by his oeuvre, which includes paintings in oil and water colour, etchings, wood carvings, engravings, lithographs and textbook-illustrations,” says Lee, who is consumed by the exquisite detail of the artistic process of paper tole art.

She is also inspired by the art’s uniqueness and emphasis on detail. “I have to visualise the picture in its entirety. I then have to see which part has to be cut first. [Paper tole involves cutting and layering of various designs or prints.] The result varies depending on the project. If I work on a simple design such as fruit or kiddie stuff like a picture of a teddy bear, the result is discernible at an early stage. The more complicated the design, the harder it is to envision the outcome,” she says.

Paper tole requires the artist to make copies of each image. “These have to be cut individually, and each copy has to be reapplied directly over the original; I use four to seven copies. The method creates a sculptured and layered effect. Cutting has to be meticulous and perfect; even gluing and shaping. I have to be attentive to the most seemingly unimportant detail,” she says.

Paper tole is used to emphasise many objects from petals to buildings. And almost any image imaginable can be crafted into paper tole art. Lee loves images related to the kitchen, which is connected to her love for cooking. “I also like objects that describe happiness such as those related to weddings or a celebration. I also love pictures of children,” she says.

She can create an easy piece like a single flower in about two hours. However, designing a complicated piece like the one shown on this page (bottom left) – The Painter on the Roof by Anton Pieck – can take her six to 12 hours.

“Assembling is the most interesting part. This is where you connect your soul to the project,” she says.

Lee has been an active member at ARTE Soukh since her first participation in February this year. “At first I was hesitant. Today I am a lot more confident as many have praised my work. At every ARTE Soukh event, I conduct free demonstrations. Some of the attendees have even taken a few lessons.

“Meeting different artists and appreciating their art influences my own artistic sensibilities. The spirit among us [the art fraternity] is inspiring,” she says.

– For details, contact Lee, on

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