Wherefore Art Thou X-Acto Knife? Kevin Stanton’s Cut-Paper Shakespeare Classics

A cut above. The title page for the Signature Shakespeare edition of Romeo and Juliet, illustrated with hand-cut paper artwork by Kevin Stanton.

Kevin Stanton remembers the first time he picked up an X-Acto knife. “In an introductory Chinese class I once took, I obsessively chose the hardest pattern for a cut-paper project we did out of construction paper,” he says. “I was struck by how detailed I could be with that knife.” He ended up with a fish that shimmered with painstakingly cut scales and a taste for slicing paper, a technique he returned to during his freshman year at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. “I’d done a portrait in small strips of color-aid for my LCD class that was ridiculously meticulous, and I’m convinced the only reason I passed my drawing class was because my drawing professor liked it so much.”

Now a few years out of Pratt (he graduated in 2010 with a BFA in communications design), Stanton has honed his knife skills to the point that Sterling Publishing enlisted him to illustrate several volumes of its Signature Shakespeare series with his hand-cut paper artwork, which is reproduced in all its multi-dimensional glory in laser-cut tip-ins and scans. On Saturday, Stanton will be among the mix of established and emerging artists and designers participating in Pratt’s annual Alumni Art and Design Fair, where books, accessories, jewelry, paintings, and photography by more than 40 Pratt alumni will be up for sale. We asked Stanton to tell us about the process of taking a blade to the Bard, his experience at Pratt, and what he’ll turn his sharp eye (and sharp edges) to next.

What was your process like for illustrating new editions of the Shakespeare classics?
The process for the Shakespeare classics started with large lists of ideas for spot illustrations that were put together by Sterling’s Shakespeare expert (a Columbia professor, I believe). Then a ton of thumbnails and discussions about colors and sketches and ideas and revisions. Then better sketches and revisions. And basically by the end, I had two weeks to finish both pairs of books! It was crazy, but amazing.

What was the most challenging aspect of this project?
The sheer quantity of illustrations with the time, I think. But working with a group of people brings its own challenges too, but I think we cobbled something special together so it was worth it!

How did your education at Pratt affect your work?
The best things I got from Pratt were from the professors. Floyd Hughes in particular stands out because he tells the best stories, and I learned a lot about what it means to be an illustrator from him. But there was so much information and wisdom to be gleaned, even when it wasn’t necessarily being directly taught. Professors would tell stories about how one random piece of work led to them being hired years down the line for something else, like Fate. The mantra I picked up was basically, “Do the work that you love, and work will find you”, and it’s a good one. On top of that, my work was discovered at the Pratt Show, which is what led to me being hired by Sterling in the first place!

Are there particular artists, designers, and/or illustrators that have been particularly influential for you?
I’m inspired by a pretty diverse range of people, I think. Elsa Mora, for example. Right now I’m a big fan of people who can do it all, who can explore ideas with varying mediums. People like Olly Moss, Mike Mitchell, and Stefan Sagmeister are at the top of that for me at the moment.

What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on a pitch for a special edition of one of my favorite books, and a similar project for another of my favorite books! If they both get published, I will be the happiest person alive. And otherwise I have sketchbooks full of a thousand mini-projects I hope to get to one day!