Art Nouveau Paper Cut Mermaid Illustration by Wai-Chung Yeung

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Sydney based artist Wai-Chung Yeung is a recent Industrial Design graduate with a love for fairytales and mythology, especially those with wonderful creatures that snare the imagination (mermaids, Valkyries, forest nymphs, centaurs, you name it!). Of course naturally when you hear fairytales you think, AH! the classics like Disney, filled with tons of smiles and happy endings. In Wai’s case, she is drawn to the darkly beautiful and bittersweet versions of those widely known fairytales because of their rich poignancy and vulnerability.

One of her particular favorites happens to be The Little Mermaid, but in this darker tale, she gives up everything for the sake of her Prince, eventually transforming into seafoam and sacrificing her life for his happiness. Even though this tale is soaked with tragedy, Wai’s lustrous approach to her finely detailed paper cut illustrations leave you intrigued, your eyes searching over the ornate and flowing lines of hair, smoke and painted layered pieces underneath. I especially love the textured paper backdrop flecked with gold, eluding to the depths of the glowing sea, overall creating a deeply moody but incredibly beautiful scene.

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“Apart from fairytales and legends, my one other great inspiration is paper itself and all the wonderful contradictions it poses more than anything, I think it’s the thought of creating something from what is essentially destruction, making holes, tearing, ripping, slicing the paper and coming out with something that can be bewilderingly complex and tells a story.” – Wai-Chung Yeung

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Her process involves a grand source of inspiration, whether it’s a whisper of a tale that she’s heard and remembered, or whether it’s a color she has seen that reminds her of the sea or something else. Once this occurs, she has some rough sketches which she then translates into three distinct layers: outlines, color blocks and back colors. She always starts with the outlines first with her trusty scalpel (details such as the hair strands on the Little Mermaid piece), not just to get the harder parts over and done with, but also because they are the most delicate parts and are the most likely to warp a little and go out of shape (it’s easier to reshape her back colors to fit any changes, rather than recut her outlines again).

She continues with the block colors, which includes areas of colors that have no outlines but also need no embellishments, such as her body and tail scales, and the little octopus. Last but not least are the back colors! This is fairly time-consuming as this is where the bulk of the color-matching happens. She picks from a particular set or makes up her own gradients with watercolors paints and inks. Finally she brings it all of the parts together to create a wonderfully ornate and art-nouveau-esque styled paper illustration.

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“The Little Mermaid work is somewhat special to me, because it’s not just a favorite tale of mine, but also the one that means the most to me. Most people remember the original as the mermaid who fell in love and gave up her tail in exchange for legs, eventually dying when he fell in love with another. To me, it tells the story of a girl who had a dream she refused to let go of, even at the very end a wish that meant everything to her and she still nurtured, despite knowing the risks and losing so much: her freedom, her family and friends, and her voice. Despite everything, she had the courage and dreams to keep going, even when it seemed like the world was against her and she couldnít speak out to defend or explain herself ñ where the sound of her silence was a sign of her own sacrifice and strength. It resonates a little in my personal life, where it reminds me that yes, sometimes it feels like we’re being overwhelmed and hopeless, but that dreams are worth striving for and can often be what carry us through the darker moments in life.” – Wai-Chung Yeung

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Submitted by Wai-Chung Yeung

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