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Life & Work with Kristen Newcomer

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristen Newcomer.

Hi Kristen, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Although I’ve always enjoyed creative activities, I spent much of my education focused on the sciences. I have a Bachelor of Science in Geology and a Masters of Science in Physical Geography. In the middle of graduate school, I finally figured out that while I love learning about science, I wasn’t motivated to “do science” for my actual career. I struggled throughout my 20’s with an autoimmune reaction to a virus and then endometriosis. I lived with chronic pain for about eight years, which made holding a full-time job very difficult. As I was struggling to finish graduate school, I became pregnant with my first son. I finished defending my thesis one month before he was born. Since I didn’t know if I really wanted a job in science and had just had a baby, it seemed like the perfect time to take a break and focus on being a mom.

While I enjoyed being a mom, after one year, I found I needed something for just me. My health issues were starting to resolve themselves, giving me more energy and focus to be creative than I had had for a long time before. At first, I just started coloring in adult coloring books. This was relaxing but felt like a waste of time. What do you do with coloring pages? Nothing, they get finished and thrown away. I wanted to make something that could last, but I ruled out painting because with a small child, it seemed too messy and too much work to get out and then clean up and put away. I needed something I could stop and clean up quickly. Around the same time, I was making decorations by hand for my son’s first birthday, as I didn’t have (and couldn’t afford) a Cricut machine. Although it took time, I found cutting out the decorations by hand with a scalpel blade a fun challenge. I looked at my coloring pages, with the black lines all connected, and thought, “I wonder if that would look cool cut out?” And so I started papercutting coloring book pages.

At the time, I didn’t even know papercutting was an art. I just knew I enjoyed the rhythm of cutting. It was a fun challenge to figure out what to cut and what to leave intact, and the stroke of cutting again and again was relaxing in a meditative way. So I practiced on coloring pages and then starting looking for tips online for cutting paper. I didn’t find much information about how to papercut, but I started finding other papercut artists online to follow. I tried things their way some and mostly just experimented on my own to find what worked for me. Once I got comfortable with cutting, I started drawing my own designs.

The first couple of papercuts I designed myself were wedding gifts for friends. They loved them! I thought papercut art was such a unique way to celebrate special occasions, so I started making them as wedding gifts, baby announcements, nursery decor, and anniversary gifts for all my friends and family. After receiving positive feedback, I decided to try to sell my own work and have expanded from there.

I’ve been papercutting for three years now and selling my artwork through 19 Paper Lane for about a year now. I am still growing as an artist, refining my unique style, and experimenting with different subjects. My work is heavily influenced by nature– couldn’t fully leave my science background behind, I guess! My style is also characterized by small, detailed, and very intricate cuts. I like to do one or two cut layers, depending on the piece. I enjoy commissions and including details of a person’s story in a work too.

I never imagined that I’d be pursuing a career as an artist, but I’m learning to embrace this creative side of me that I was not able to explore before. It has been incredible to find something I love doing and be able to share it with others.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It has definitely not been a smooth road here. But I doubt the road to anywhere good is ever smooth. The bumps, hurdles, setbacks, and roadblocks help to form us, strengthen us, and guide us to who we were made to be.

As I mentioned before, most of my 20’s was characterized by living with chronic pain. I worked part-time, as I was able, and struggled to finish graduate school. In between some of these times, I stayed at home, mostly trying to survive amidst a fog of pain. I barely had enough energy, physically or mentally, to work, and had virtually none for most hobbies, besides reading. Although I was studying science in graduate school, I wasn’t motivated to finish and generally felt confused about what I really liked and what I wanted to do with my life. Thankfully, I had a lot of support between my husband and my family. They encouraged me to finish my graduate degree even if I didn’t think I was going to use it.

After my second son was born, my endometriosis has remarkably been in remission. Pregnancy isn’t a cure for endometriosis, but for unknown reasons, some women don’t have it after being pregnant. I’m thankful that this is my story. I don’t know if it will come back again, but in these last few years in my early 30’s, I have felt better physically and mentally than I have in a decade. The fog of chronic pain has been lifted, and I found myself having the energy to do more things I enjoy, like running and being creative. I’m taking advantage of feeling good and doing more now that I can, careful not to take these things for granted.

Because of my background in science rather than art, I struggle with doubting myself in this process. I know it’s easy for all of us to struggle with imposter syndrome, and I definitely do as well. Can I call myself an artist? Am I a “real artist?” But as I pursue my art career, I try to remind myself that it’s ok if my path here was long, winding, and unconventional. It’s ok that my path has changed from science to art, especially if I love it. Art is not what I expected to be doing with my life, but it has been such a gift after a difficult decade of life. I’m moving forward with it, taking advantage of my good health for now (because it may not last!) and not taking for granted this beautiful gift of art that is now in my life.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Through my shop called “19 Paper Lane,” I sell my original papercut artwork. Papercut art is a design hand-cut from archival paper using a scalpel blade and cutting mat. There are various styles of papercut art. My own work typically consists of one or two cut layers against a solid background layer. Depending on the piece and the subject matter, a piece may have more or less layers. I like to make sure each layer is cut from one piece of paper, such that the design left after cutting is all connected to each other, with nothing left “hanging” on its own. This restriction proves an interesting design challenge for me and creates a distinctive style when the layers line up together. My style is marked by a high level of detail and many small, intricate cuts. I like to use color selectively, but my go-to is to cut in white paper.

I am influenced by mostly by nature but also by culture, travel, and stories. I’ve always been drawn to nature and how the world works, and now get to capture its beauty in paper. I also like to make things that celebrate the culture of places, the things that make each place unique and its residents proud to live there. Lastly, I love doing commissions to celebrate people’s stories.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
I think trying to sell anything you make is a big risk. Creatives spend so much time making something, and we can put a lot of ourselves in our work. We send it out to the world, hesitatingly asking, “Do you like it?” That’s a huge risk. What if people don’t like it? What if people don’t buy it? And when we put too much of ourselves in our work, we may end up thinking, “What if they don’t like me?”

I try not to put too much of myself in my work, such that my value as a person isn’t derived from whether other people like what I make. While I do want to sell my work, grow my business, and be successful, I try to remember that my worth doesn’t come from what others think of me or my work. My worth and value is internal. Remembering this takes away some of the risk involved with sending your work out into the world. If they don’t like it, then it’s not necessarily that they don’t like me, but maybe that particular piece isn’t the right art for them. But it will be the right art piece to be appreciated by someone else.

From a business perspective, I try to minimize risk if I can. Sometimes this is possible, and sometimes it’s not. I am always scared about taking a risk I can’t minimize, but my support network is what helps me through this. Even putting myself out there as an artist in the first place felt like such a scary risk, but my husband, who is my best friend and biggest supporter, encouraged me that it would be worth it. People in your corner can help when a risk needs to taken. Minimize the risk if you can, but if you can’t, find people who will back you up. They can encourage you to take that risk and be there to help you if you fall on your face. Risk is a lot less scary when faced together with others.

Pricing:

  • Commission Pricing determined by size of piece, starting at $100

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