Versatile Quilling Artist Tracy Balkin

One of the reasons I enjoy blogging is that I get to meet paper artists all over the world... the internet makes it so easy. Today I'm happy to introduce Tracy Balkin, a talented quiller in Johannesburg, South Africa. Like many others who have an interest in working with paper by hand, her original career was graphic design, but once she became enamored with quilling, Tracy Balkin Paper Art, was born. 

quilled modified heart-shaped piece containing quilled letter L and natural sand dollars


All of Tracy's professionally framed works are commissioned. Each one is unique and often contains things that are specific and meaningful to an individual or family. Monograms and family trees are popular, as well as Judaica art, blessings for the home or workplace, corporate logos, and abstract art. 

multicolor quilled monogram with t and b letters


I asked Tracy to tell us about the sand dollar piece. (lead photo)


How magnificent are sand dollars? It's incredible what nature can create! In South Africa we call them pansies or pansy shells. The ones used in this piece were brought back by my client from Mozambique, over time. For her daughter’s 21st birthday, it was fitting to use 21 shells to complete the piece.

quilled family tree with multicolor heart-shaped leaves and names inserted on branches

I read via the About page on your website that you discovered quilling while traveling.

I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa where I live with my husband, our 14 year old son and twin eight year old daughters. I have loved art all my life. I took Art and Design throughout school and university, and qualified as a Graphic Designer 22 years ago. My husband (a Chartered Accountant) was transferred to Luxembourg for work (2010-2012) so off we went on an adventure of a lifetime.


I couldn’t work there and needed to keep my hands busy while my son was at creche. While visiting a friend in France to chat about our arts and craft interests, I commented on a picture she had on her wall. I had seen the technique before, but never knew what it was called. When my friend told me it was quilling, I had to try it for myself (immediately).


There was no Pinterest or YouTube tutorials like there are today, but I had enough tools on hand to be able to play around. I cut paper into strips with a blade and ruler and used a kebab skewer to roll them. I spent hours, days, weeks, months teaching myself. It was unlike any art form I’d ever tried and I was instantly hooked. I’ve always loved anything to do with paper (I grew up in my dad’s printing factory), so this was new and exciting!


colorful, circular monogram encircled by Hebrew wording

What appeals to you about quilling and what do you love most about it?

Quilling is so unique. It’s incredible how simple strips of paper can be transformed into masterpieces. It’s like painting with paper. My favourite aspect is the fascination and curiosity it creates. Anyone looking at it for the first time does a double take... “Is that all made from paper? How on earth do you make it look like that!?”


mixed media paper art of kotel with many figures gathered at the wall


What are your favorite quilling tools?

Whilst I have since graduated from a kebab skewer to the traditional quilling tool, I’d say my favourite is the crimper. I love the texture it creates which adds a whole new dimension to quilling. I rarely use other tools and find the most effective are my fingers – and tweezers, of course! I could live without my
crimper, but never my tweezers.


abstract quilled ocean composed of tight coils and scrolls

Do you prefer to cut your own strips or do you use pre-cut strips?

I started off cutting my own strips with a blade and ruler, but I couldn’t keep up with the amount I needed. I have bought pre-cut strips, but with experience I’ve become fussy about the quality of the paper. 

I collect paper from different sources, locally and abroad, and have it cut on an industrial guillotine. If I run out of a particular colour or need specific colours for a project, then I do that by hand. When people travel they tend collect souvenirs, food, clothes and accessories, I collect paper!


quilled white and purple orchid branch with four blossoms

What width strip do you use most often?

When I first began quilling, I cut 5mm strips as it was easy to measure. As I’ve progressed, I prefer to use 7mm (not as fun to measure out). It’s easier to work with compared to 10mm, but creates better depth and shadows than 5mm. Most of my projects now are a combination of 5/7/10mm. The more varied the width, the more interesting the finished piece.


circular corporate logo with quilled figure with outstretched arms and legs in center


What is your favorite quilling technique?

I don’t know if I have a favourite overall technique. It probably depends on my mood, patience and creativity at the time. I love on-edge quilling, as well as traditional coils. Honeycomb isn’t one of my favourites to work with, but does have the most amazing effect when complete.


two quilled lit candles on tall candlesticks surrounded by abstract design of multicolor quilled coils 

Have you done other types of paper art?

I do a lot of digital paper cutting, sometimes as part of a piece or as stand-alone projects. I also did a series of miniature 3D pop-up books which was fun. It’s nice to experiment with other techniques or include different elements; that way it never gets boring and often ends up adding a whole new dimension to my work.

quilled multicolor letter B with several figures, a couple and two children, cut from black paper


Is quilling popular in South Africa?

Quilling wasn't widely known here until a few years ago, which is what makes it more exciting for me. I’m one of two professional quilling artists in South Africa. It’s gaining popularity as a hobby, but I’m pleased that in the professional arena it’s still quite rare. It’s my full-time job, I work at every opportunity I get in between the kids and their commitments – which usually means working until 02:00. 


My late dad used to say, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s true, when I get lost in my work, it’s all love. 

quilled multicolor heart


Visit Tracy Balkin Paper Art. She is on Instagram and Facebook.

smiling, dark haired young woman wearing white V-neck sweater and blue jeans

Previous features about South African paper artists include paper mache jewelry maker Evangeline Duplessis and quiller Lavanya Naidoo, both of Cape Town.



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Ann Martin
Ann Martin

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  1. I'm Hilda Burton from Delaware in USA. Tracy, your work is gorgeous! Your talent is overwhelming! Thank you so much for sharing it with us today.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed seeing Tracy's work. And hello from a fellow Delawarean. :)


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