“Wycinanki” pronounced Vee-chee-non-kee is the Polish word for ‘paper-cut design,’ a Polish folkart that dates back at least 150 years. These intricately cut paper designs are known as Vytynanky (Витина́нки) in Ukraine or Vycinanki (Выцінанкі) in Belarus. No one is sure exactly how or why this Polish folkart started, but some say it goes back to the time when few farm houses had glass windows. The legend says that peasant farmers would hang sheep skins over the window openings, snipping small openings to let some light in. Soon these became decorative as well as functional.
Before starting on your art project, gather your supplies: colored paper, sharp scissors, glue, and access to a computer. We googled “Wycinanki” and pored over the gorgeous images:
We learned that common subject matter includes peacocks, doves, roosters, and other birds; circular or star-shaped medallions (gwiazdy); tons and tons of colorful flowers; plus annual holidays such as Easter and Christmas with angels, churches or even Nativity scenes. Some include details in black, while others use bright colors, or even just a single color.
Finally, we talked about symmetry. Symmetry in art and design creates balance, harmony, order, and is aesthetically pleasing. It is found everywhere in nature, which is probably why we find it to be so beautiful. If you notice on the authentic wycinanki, we couldn’t find any that were not symmetrical. Specifically, we talked about reflection symmetry (also called bilateral symmetry), which looks like a mirror has cut the picture in half (think of a butterfly). Many times we folded the paper in half to cut out the designs, or just cut out 2 copies at the same time.
We noticed layers of colors, and details cut out from the outsides of the designs, and tried to imitate the style of this Polish folkart. My kids took a long time to create the effects they were looking for, and we were so pleased with the result! What a pretty multicultural art form to explore!