that time when Brittney Lee taught me how to cut paper

Back in January, Mr. M and I were in San Francisco for the weekend and decided to make a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum, as we hadn’t seen the exhibits in four years. On the drive down to the city, I happened upon an event listing for upcoming classes at WDFM, and I literally bust a gut when I saw that on my favorite Disney artists, Brittney Lee was offering a paper cutting class (here’s her 2011 Harry Potter masterpiece) in March to coincide with the new Mary Blair exhibit.

When we got to the museum that afternoon, I crossed my fingers and asked if there were any spaces left, and lo and behold there was ONE LEFT! So of course I signed up… and on March 15th, I drove down to San Francisco and indulged myself in a very creative afternoon!

And here was the final result:

Walt Disney Family Museum Class w/Brittney Lee

[all real artists out there… please don’t mock this publically, as I’m pretty proud of my little shadowbox]

Part of my intrigue in taking the class was really exploring and understanding the work process behind paper cut art. Do you start with a base layer and then move up? What type of paper is best? How do you make the shadow box. And to my sheer delight all of these questions and more were answered! Oh… and Brittney Lee just happens to be one the sweetest and lovely people out there… so there’s that too!

Here are the steps of the process that Brittney uses that I scribbled down:

  • Draw the piece to scale on paper or in Photoshop first – then print it out in line form
  • Use a light table to trace each individual piece on the colored paper you want


  • To make the shadow box:
    • Measure 5/8” on all sides of the background paper & score them with a bone folder
    • Cut into the long edge of the fold on both sides (top and bottom)
    • Fold all of the sides up (opposite of where you made your pencil marks!)
    • Glue the corners on the outside of the piece to seal the box!


  • Cut out your art pieces using an X-acto knife or scissors and a self-healing mat
    • Paper can be any type of archival quality paper and glue can be a hot glue gun, glue strips, etc.
  • Use small folded paper strip boxes to elevate the layers as you need them
  • Always stand up and look at your piece from all angles to make sure that you’ve hidden what needs to be hidden
  • To attach your mat board to your box, just use masking tape strips!


And some friendly tips as well:

  • Cut out the negative space on small pieces FIRST before you cut the whole shape – much easier for leverage and less chance of anything breaking!
  • It’s always easier to pull the blade toward you
  • Organize and cut by pre-cutting large chunks of paper before you start your placement
  • It’s easier to get leverage cutting when you’re standing up
  • Can’t find the perfect color paper? Paint with gouache to set the perfect color or to enhance faces!


I left the class feeling pretty empowered about my ability to actually pull off some paper cut artwork on my own… and just generally artistically refreshed from learning new tips and tricks. Before I left the class, I had Brittney Lee sign one of Miss L’s favorite books (One Sweet Race) that she illustrated, and of course snapped a photo with her as well!


  • jill

    This is fantastic and really helpful I wondered how she enclosed her pieces. How does she frame them? does she just take the backing out and use the frame pins on the matt board?

  • Lisa

    This is so helpful, thank you very much for sharing! :-D I could guess how Brittney did her paper art but it’s nice to see an in-depth insight into the process. This looks like such a fun hobby to undertake (and not an expensive one!). I hope you don’t mind me asking, but is the mat board/frame the same size as the shadow box? And did it take a long time to create your piece? Which is beautiful, by the way. x

  • Ana Mikulic

    Thanks so much for sharing this! I stumbled across it when I was trying to figure out the best way to elevate the layers and it was very helpful! Oh and by the way, yours turned out beautiful!!

  • Jared

    I have been a huge fan of Brittney Lees for years, and when I first started to do research on all her pieces I came across a picture of your piece. This entire time I thought that this was one of hers and your piece inspired me to start doing paper art myself. I just wanted to say thank you and also ver jealous that you were able to attend one of her classes.