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Posted by on May 19, 2011 in Blog, Books | 25 comments

Fables de la Fontaine. Book in Progress (post 31)

Fables de la Fontaine. Book in Progress (post 31)

Today I’m back with a post about my tools. Very often I get e-mails asking about what tools I use for my papercuts. Below you can see them. I also need to say that if you ever wrote me an e-mail and never heard back from me, please, Oh please! (as Diego says) don’t be mad at me please. Sometimes it is not possible for me to respond to a large number of e-mails individually. But I hope that this post answers some of your questions.

For my one-color-only, flat papercuts, I just use my X-Acto knife with a #11 blade, a cutting matt underneath the paper for protection, a pencil for drawing the design and an eraser to correct the drawing if necessary.

But for making more complex pieces I use mostly the tools that you see in the picture below:

Tools copy 700

View this photo in a larger size.

Here is the list:

1- I use both sides of this wooden tool for shaping paper.

2- Metal dentist tool for shaping paper as well.

3- Computer mouse pad for supporting the paper during the shaping or embossing process. A mouse pad has proven to be the best support for shaping my papers so far, because it has a nice cushioning surface that allows the paper to gently expand as you press it down with any of the tools that I show you here.

4- Another wooden tool for shaping paper.

5- Ball stylus tool for shaping and creasing paper.

6- Another wooden tool for shaping paper.

7- My favorite tool for shaping paper! I can do all the work of paper shaping with that single tool. Unfortunately I have no idea where I got it from or even when. I have had it forever. A few months ago it got lost and I almost called 911, I can’t live without it. I did a little Internet search and found it here where it’s called Maxon #3 Burnisher. I don’t know exactly what this tool is originally designed for.

(But you could use about anything for shaping paper. A small metal spoon works nice; use the handle as well as the round part. Just make sure to apply the pressure on the paper gradually, moving the tool in circles. Before I mastered this I had to practice it a lot, there is no formula in particular, you just need to do it a lot and observe how the paper behaves. The paper itself will “tell” you what to do. Up to this day I haven’t found a single book explaining how to do this. I had to teach myself how to do it. If I were going to teach anybody my technique I would need to do it in person. Or I would need to write a whole book with lots of detailed pictures. One day I will offer classes, when the kids are a little older and one day I will also write a book on paper “sculpting”).


This is just a random picture to make this post it less boring 🙂

…now let’s continue…

8- Small protractor for drawing curves.

9- Needle for poking holes on paper. I just took a regular sewing needle and glued it between two pieces of card to make it easier for me to manipulate. You could also make a polymer clay handle.

10- Small triangle ruler.

11- X-Acto knife with a # 11 blade for cutting paper. I replace the blade as soon as the sharp tiny tip breaks. That way I don’t have to make lots of pressure with my hand which keeps my wrist relaxed and healthy.

12- Pencil with soft lead for drawing on paper.

13- Tweezers for handling small pieces of paper.

14- Syringe where I keep my Acid-free glue.

One of the questions that I get asked the most is: What type of glue do you use for your papercuts?. I use several, as long as they are pH neutral. Right now the one that I’m using in this project is a PH Neutral Bookbinding adhesive from a brand named LINECO. See the picture below. I just place a little bit of it in my plastic syringe. The syringe has a tiny aperture for applying the glue, that gives you lots of control over the amount of glue to use. I recommend you to use as little glue as possible on your paper. A tiny miniature touch of it will do the job. I keep the tip of the syringe closed with a bead made out of putty, which is some kind of soft polymer material that never dries, it looks like chewing gum. Chewing gum could be a good substitute by the way and it’s easily found in different flavors and shapes in supermarkets and other places :). Also, if your child or you, or even your pet gets chewing gum on the hair here is a genius way to remove it.


…the list goes on…

15- Regular ruler.

16- Miniature precision scissors from here.

17- Small scissors.

18- Small size scissors. (my favorite). They’re so nice and sharp.

19- Large scissors.

20- Bone paper folder.

21- Retractable owl. It has the same use as the regular needle to pock holes.

22- Eraser.

The tools number 13, 20 and 21 have little faces on them. That’s not mandatory for you to do. I make little faces for some of my tools because that humanizes them and I love to think that my tools and I together form a team. Sometimes when I am not feeling like working I look at them and they look back at me with their little eyes like saying: Come on Elsita! Do you want us to lay down here on this table forever? So, the bottom line is that little faces on tools are great motivators.

Before I forget, I also get many e-mails asking how many times I have cut myself with the X-Acto knife. I have identified a whole group of fellows who are really afraid of knifes. Here is my answer: I have got cut zero times. Yay!! I will keep my fingers crossed so I never get cut by the X-Acto knife. Well, I don’t think that it’s a good idea to keep our fingers crossed while using the X-Acto knife. But as an alternative we could cross our toes. I think that the key is to keep our 5 senses awake and the table always organized. Using a retractable knife helps too.

I hope that this post was helpful and that you didn’t fall asleep.

See you tomorrow!

Elsita 🙂

 Read Post #32 Start from the beginning


  1. Elsita, I love this about you! I have found that many artist are somewhat reserved of reviling their secrets. You are open and transparent in something that is so close to you…your creations! It’s humbling, and that is an immense quality to have (specially in someone as talented as you).
    P.S- Im sure you have noticed it before… your name written all together has the word “AMOR” in it!!! I noticed it by coincidence. ELSIT(AMOR)A or ELS(AMOR)A
    Es porque haces todo con amor 🙂 jaja

  2. What a fantastic post, smiley man and all, even though he wasn’t needed as such, to make it less boring!!! XX

  3. And your hands!!! The most important tools… you cannot buy those at Michael s…
    – Hello, I’m looking for a pair of talented hands.

  4. Thank you Elsita – for being so generous with your time and for sharing this! What a great post. Just what I needed.
    PS – The #11 blade on the exacto knife comes in normal steel and stainless steel – if you buy a pack of 15 in the black plastic container – it says so on the package. Someone working at the art store once told me that the tip on the stainless is stronger and I have been using those since.

  5. Great tip Bhavna!!!
    Thanks a lot for sharing it!
    From now on I will buy only the stainless steel blades.
    I will take a look to see what kind I’m using right now.
    Thanks a lot Selene for the discovery!
    I had no idea that the word love was hidden in my name.
    I always hear that love hides in strange places 🙂

  6. Elsita thank you so much for this post! It has become my new favourite!!!
    It would be pretty neat to be able to attend your lessons when you have them in the future! 😀
    Perhaps you could write a book and also make some videos for your Youtube channel as well! You know? for geographical and economical issues! 😮
    I LOVE #16 and 5 tools! I have #5 but one end broke and slips off. I got it from my mom and have no idea what it is. Some ex-bf used it to pry open a can and bent one of its tips! But that also worked out somehow to my advantage! 😀 he he #7,13,4,2 and 20 look like a list of items to covet from now on! and #17 is very intriguing. I’ve been using Italian scissors for clipping nails, well actually “cutículas” I think.
    I’ll stop rambling now! Thank you SO much for sharing your tools with us, I love them! And feel grateful and inspired by your kindness and generosity <3 🙂

  7. Thanks mucho!
    I always Love to know such details.
    And your cheerful nature makes it all the more a gift.

  8. Very helpful, thank you! You are charming and adorable too.

  9. No ofcourse I didn’t fall asleep. I just think it is fantastic that you are willing to share so openly with the rest of us.
    Have a lovely day.

  10. Thank you very much for sharing your valuable knowledge, Elsita. Now that I see all your paper-shaping tools, I wonder if you would find silk flower making tools useful:
    My mother gave me her set that she bought, one by one, when she took a millinery class in London back in the fifties.
    Also, my favorite trick to remove gum from anything: peanut butter. That’s right, just smear a generous glob of peanut butter on the gum and wash the clothing, hair, or fur with the soap that you normally would use. It’s crazy but it totally works!

  11. Wow dutchbaby!
    Those tools for making silk flowers look great really interesting.
    I have similar looking tools that are used for shaping metal jewelry.
    I will carefully study the silk flower making tools.
    I suffer from a minor disease called tool addiction syndrome 😉
    Also, about your chewing gum removal trick, I wish that I knew it
    a few years ago when I had to cut a big piece of my hair due to not
    knowing that chewing gum can actually be removed from hair.

  12. Elsa, you’re the best! Sharing your secret tool stash is very generous of you. I was going to email and ask what you use to support the paper when embossing — but now you’ve already told me: a computer mouse pad — wow! that’s brilliant! And bonus, I already have a lot of these things in my toolbox.
    I’ve gotta get one of #21 which I googled and found on ebay, where it’s called “Tim Holz Tonic Retractable craft pick” (retractable needle tool).
    Thanks for the syringe tip, this is going to be very handy with all sorts of craft work and gives me the perfect excuse to order some things from Dharma.
    One last thing; I have serious tool-lust for #6. Could you pretty please give a full size curvy-side-on view of that one so I can make one for myself??
    Love, love, love the little faces! What friendly motivation to keep working.
    PS: Thank you dutchbaby for the source for the flower making tools, that was great of you.

  13. Hi Elsa! You are SO good at sharing! I LOOOOVE Mr. Smiley Man! He made me laugh, he is so sweet and well… HAPPY looking!
    I wish you were here in Paris, I would invite you to my year end show at Parson’s on the weekend!
    Hug Nomad!

  14. Thank you for the link dutchbaby, it looks like an amazing quilt! I never would have guessed that’s how silk flower petal’s were shaped!
    (It’s so nice to see Elsita replying to the comments 🙂

  15. Bored? Are you kidding me, Elsa! Wow, this is so generous of you to take the time to explain your process so beautifully and thoughtfully. I am going to print this out as a reference (until you write that book of yours, that is)!
    I remember doing some paper curling and shaping many years ago. Maybe it’s time to try it again in a whole new way? Thank you thank you!!!

  16. Thanks so much for sharing your tools! I have wondered too but didn’t want to email you because I know you’re so busy finishing the book. I do have one question, how do you give the finished illustrations a 3-D quality, for example, the animals have shadows under them and appear to be set above the stage (same with the curtains). Is there a little stand or something glued to the back?

  17. Qué util ¡muchisimas gracias! Ya se algunas cosas que me voy a pedir para el día de Reyes en Navidad. La idea de las caras me parece preciosa y aplicable a otras herramientas.

  18. You forgot to photograph the most important tools of all, your HAND and your BRAIN. Anybody can run out and purchase those tools; however, it is your hands and your mind that cut and assemble magically!

  19. Just when I think my thoughts are my only in my head, you go and post this about your tools. My teenage daughter, Nica (Rhymes with the last four letters of Veronica in Spanish), has always had access to my open studio and all of it’s supplies. Her favorites are the scissors and paper. She likes to work on all things “tiny”. She can spend hours with nothing more than paper, scissors, glue, and her imagination. I told her about you. Lately, I have been wondering about the tools you use. She and I, both, are going to reread this post many times. Thank you. Carolina

  20. thank you for sharing this.
    have you thought about putting some classes about shaping paper on youtube?

  21. Elsita, you make my day. And I love it that Selene discovered that your name contains “Amor.” How perfect!
    Dutchbaby, your petal forming tools (and your quilt)are amazing! I love the community that this blog has created!

  22. It’s great to hear from you and see what you’ve been up to. In your blog I feel your enthusiasm for life. thank you.

  23. Well, that was such a good news. It is really a good thing that you do really came back for your blog. Great!

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