My Material Life

Fashion Paper Cut Outs Inspired by Mats Gustafson

Are you familiar with Mats Gustafson’s watercolor fashion illustrations? If not, you should be. As near as I can tell he was the one that illustrated the Bemberg ads below that I tore out of sewing magazines in the 90s because I thought they were so cool.

mml bemberg watercolors

But I didn’t know who Mats Gustafson was until a couple of years ago when I learned about him from a Euromaxx story. That’s when I discovered more of his watercolor illustrations and the following paper cut outs that he produced for Italian Vogue.

Source: Decoy Magazine

Source: Decoy Magazine

I believe there were eight illustrations in the spread, all in white and kraft paper. As much as I love watercolor, there is something about this paper project that excited me even more. I was reminded of it when I saw another Euromaxx piece on Gustafson recently. I thought it might be a fun project to try with Samantha with colored paper during spring break, but you know how it goes. We didn’t get around to it. So I made these all on my own. I do love to cut and paste. And the best thing about this project is, you don’t have to be an illustrator to be able to produce it. You just need to find an image that inspires you … and then use tracing paper.


I found my images online (from We Are Knitters marketing emails) and printed them on my printer. You don’t have to use good quality prints; you just need to be able to see the shapes of your image through your tracing paper. Use a pencil to go over and draw the lines of your figure and clothing on your tracing paper. I used two different methods to transfer cutting lines to my cut out paper, one for cardstock and one for a thinner origami paper that I used for the black cut outs. For cardstock, lay your tracing paper right side up on the right side of your cut out paper. Use a blunt pencil or bone folder to trace over the lines of the piece you are working on. This will transfer an indented line to your cardstock that you can use as your cutting guide. For thinner paper, lay your tracing paper right side down on the wrong or back side of your cut out paper. Again, use a blunt pencil or bone folder to trace over the lines of the piece you are working on. This will transfer a pencil line from your tracing paper to the back side of your cut out paper. I used a medium size pair of scissors for all of my cutting – nothing fancy!

When all of my pieces were cut I used a glue stick to adhere them to a piece of cardstock. I cut the pieces to fit together with the exception of the tops on both figures. I cut those so the hair could layer over those pieces. Actually, the hat band and bag also layer over the pieces underneath. Finally, I added fine pen lines (done in pencil first!) to define certain body parts like ankles.

This is a very fun project for anyone interested in fashion illustration. You could even create your own paper designs by copying pieces of fabric or knitting or whatever with a copy machine. These would look great in inexpensive black or white frames, but they’re not bad simply taped to the wall with washi tape either.


  1. Kathie Nowka

    Colleen, this is so cool! I love the way it highlights movement and personality. I’m going to try it with the Grandkiddos, using a photo for the poses. Kind of a modern take on the classic silhouette. What do you think? 😘😘 to you, S, and D!

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