San Francisco-based paper artist Kanako Abe creates elaborate, stylized portraits of animals and children using Ise-katagami, the traditional Japanese paper stencil technique for patterning kimono fabric. Abe learned Ise-katagami in 2012 and her creative interpretation treats paper as the finished product rather than simply a material in the process of image-making. The artist’s silhouettes of youth are also reminiscent of the Western tradition of creating silhouette portraits of a child’s profile. Abe fills these youthful outlines with plant tendrils, blossoming flowers, and moonlit forest scenes.

Ise-katagami—a traditional stencil technique used for complex designs on Kimono fabric. Abe uses the same Japanese Ise-katagami cutting tools but on black paper, in addition to an X-Acto knife, a cutting mat, and—most importantly—incredible patience. The resulting hand-cut creations depict woodland spirit animals and mystical forests that explore “everyday moments and thoughts.”

Abe’s growing portfolio of animal cut-outs includes a reassuring moth that reminds you to “have faith in yourself, and you will see the light,” and a supernatural fox with “a connection to a magical realm.” Abe documents each piece on Instagram, sometimes showing how her artwork casts a beautiful shadow when held against a light surface. Depending on the design’s intricacy, Abe’s smaller pieces can take up to 15 hours to complete. “I find curvy lines take more time than geometric patterns with straight lines,” she explains.

As seen in the photos below, many of Abe’s works are small, not much larger than the artist’s hand. However, she does occasionally venture into larger territory, as with her life-size wolf and bear paper cuts. Abe most recently exhibited her work in a solo show at the Little Lodge in San Francisco. You can find more of the artist’s work on Instagram.

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