Endangered Species Star in Pop-Up Book

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The paper cutting/paper engineering talent of Keerthana Ramesh came to my attention via a paper art news article. Recently she completed a brilliant hand cut pop-up book about endangered animals, My Friends Are Missing, during the pandemic lockdown. I'll share a few images from it, as well as showcase the variety of additional paper cuttings she has done, but do take a moment to see each page of the book in action on her Instagram feed.

three papercut pop-up harlequin poison frogs

Harlequin Poison Frogs



From The Indian Express


"Ramesh made the 30 species as a response to a month-long social media challenge hosted by One Million One Month, a non-profit project that aims to raise awareness about endangered species through art. The project follows a United Nations report from 2019 that warns of how one million species are at risk of extinction due to human activity."

handmade pop-up book with multicolor pages

My Friends Are Missing

Keerthana lives in Chennai and has worked as a design researcher in India since completing graduate studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. Drawn in by the clever pop-up images she has been posting, I invited her to be featured in the Artist Spotlight. 


papercut Liberian tree-hole crab
Liberian tree-hole crab


Please tell us about yourself and your art interests.


I've always loved art since I was a kid, and now especially enjoy exploring and experimenting with different mediums like watercolor, pens, and pencils. My first experience with papercut art was making greeting cards for friends and family, although I didn't know that's what it was called at the time. I used a box cutter for cutting out pieces... it never looked very good, but I loved the lacy effect.


I went to an art and design school for my undergrad schooling, so naturally my interests were pushed towards digital and vector art styles. Although I enjoyed those, I never quite felt at home... I yearned for traditional mediums.


papercut Banggai cardinalfish pop-up

 Banggai cardinalfish



I love the watercolor effect and the transparency that watercolor has. I've been incorporating painted vellum/tracing paper into my papercuts to achieve that effect. I've also been experimenting with cyanotype printing by making a few prints of my papercuts. Love the results! 


Book binding is another one of my hobbies... I've been binding my own sketchbooks since 2010. (Came in handy for the Endangered Species pop up project!) Coptic stitch is my favourite binding method. I love free association doodling in my sketchbooks and also children's tempura paints for making quick sketches.


What is it about working with paper that fascinates you, and what drew you to it initially?


I've just always had an obsession with paper as far back as middle school. I used to love scrapbooking and would save every bit of patterned paper I found in used greeting cards, pastry wrappers, paper napkins, magazines, etc. Fifteen years ago, scrapbook supplies weren't easy to come by in India, so I hoarded whatever I could find. I guess the very fact that I didn't have to spend my pocket money is what drew me in initially. 


Paper is an abundant and affordable medium for experimentation, but I didn't become drawn to paper art until my grad school years when I took a paper cutting class. That was a bit of an aha moment for me. Until then, I had only made crafts with paper, never art. The elective made me think, why didn't I realize this before! 


papercutting of word breathe surrounded by papercut and displayed on open palm of handscrolls



Tell us about your paper cutting process, favorite tools, and papers. 


My papercut process has evolved over the three years I've been practicing. I'm now experimenting more with patterns and text. I used to make a rough sketch and just start cutting, but now with the added complexity of tessellating patterns and text, I'm beginning to plan more. I start with a sketch whenever inspiration strikes. Then I look for pattern inspiration (I've mostly been using Google arts and culture and browsing through their galleries - such fun!) 

papercut floral vase


I plan the text and pattern on my computer and print out an inverted copy (I draw and cut on the back of the paper to keep the front free of pencil lines). Then I finish drawing the rest of the details, attach the print to the final paper and start cutting. I keep going for 15-25 hours over a period of 1-2 weeks. I also tend to paint the paper with alcohol inks to achieve a watercolor texture. Once the main piece is complete, I paint vellum sheets and cut out additional elements, carefully weaving/gluing them onto the main piece. 


papercut girl embraced by a vellum apparition


Favorite tools: my X-acto knife with No. 11 Excel blades. I don't find them in India, so my lovely aunt who lives in the U.S. brings them to me whenever she visits. 


Paper: I hoarded so much paper during my undergrad days, I'm still not even halfway through my stash! I've been using a 130 GSM acid-free drawing paper since I started three years ago. I also love Canson 180 GSM acid-free dark blue dry medium paper that I paint on to make the blue deeper. Vellum is another favourite - very tricky to get clean cuts though!

papercut of six lanterns connected by scrolling wisps of smoke


Your IG handle is @KeerthanaLikesToDraw. Were you an illustrator before picking up a knife via the university elective?  


Ah! Yes, sort of? I still think of the art that I make as illustrations... graphic design and illustration being my background. But I chose that handle assuming I would be documenting pages from my sketchbook, which mostly has drawings. When I started the account I didn't expect I'd fall in love with paper cutting. I've been thinking about changing my handle, but haven't yet found a name that's perfect. 


papercut house with vellum flames shooting from doors and windows
Our Home's Burning
 Created in response to the devastation brought about by the pandemic.



The Indian Express article mentioned you are a design researcher. I wasn't familiar with the term, but found the description fascinating. Have you had a chance to work in that capacity since graduating? 


Yes! I primarily work in India with incredible non-profits and organisations on projects ranging from sanitation, mental health, tech, and education, to name a few. The pandemic has certainly been tough on the field because it involves a lot of location work, and remote research isn't accessible in many parts of the country. But things are looking up. Fingers crossed! 

two papercut figures holding hearts

Do you have another papercut project in mind now that My Friends Are Missing is attracting much attention?


Yes! I'd put a project on mental health and identity on pause to work on the pop-up project, and have resumed that since the book ended. Hopefully I will be sharing it soon. With regards to pop-ups, I have some ideas in mind... I think my next project might have something to do with music. 


white papercut bird with pastel vellum accents


See more of Keerthana Ramesh's art via her website. She is also on Behance and Instagram.


Ann Martin
Ann Martin

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  1. Ann, I really like her use of watercolors in some of her designs.The artisit's Breathe piece is really cool.


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