May 15, 2014

Paper cuts: Mixed media artist shares her craft with Millstadt students

Mixed media artist Ella Richards of New York helps fourth-grader Libby Schuhardt, 10, glue black cut outs of letters to spell out the words "hip hop" on a white piece of watercolor paper.

Richards was at Millstadt Consolidated School on Thursday as part of Art on the Square's Artist in Residency program, which brings renowned artists into local schools.

Richards, who was born in Russia, showed the students her unusual technique called "scissors drawings" where she draws a design on a white piece of paper, which she tapes on top of a black sheet of paper. Then she uses scissors to carefully cut out the design. Once the cutting is complete, the black design is glued onto a white piece of watercolor paper.

Richards and her 17-year-old daughter Felicity was at the Millstadt school a majority of the day helping the students in teacher Gay Otten's art class create their own scissors drawings.

"It looks like a painting, but it's actually a paper cut," Richards told Otten's class of 31 fourth-graders.

Libby, who really likes art, said she chose the words hip hop, because she likes to dance. "It's really cool," she said of the technique used by Richards.

Libby's classmate Kaitlyn Najar, 10, designed a smiley face. "I like to be happy," she said.

Kaitlyn enjoyed working with Richards. "I don't think many people get to do it so I'm pretty happy about it," Kaitlyn said.

Richards was encouraging to the students as they worked. "Don't be frustrated," she told them. "You can do well."

When one girl started to cry because her piece didn't turn out as she planned, Richards comforted her.

"I cry. I scream. Then I start over," Richards said, noting she may do an art piece five or six times before perfecting it. Sometimes she spends a whole week drawing a design and seven or eight hours cutting it out.

Otten described Richards visit to Millstadt school as a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for the students. "They are very fortunate," Otten said. "We are very blessed."

Working with Richards may even inspire the students to be more creative, Otten said. "Once you get the creative juices flowing, you never know what's going to come out," she said.

Otten praised Richards work with the children. "She's so good with the kids," Otten said. "She brings it down to their level and helps them understand."

Before Richards began her scissors drawings, she was a painter, but she stopped after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 devastated New York City.

"I felt like life goes too fast in New York," Richards said. "We don't take time to remember people we need to remember."

She's been doing black and white scissors drawings for about eight years now. "I use black and white, because it stops people for a second and makes them reflect."

Richards is one of more than a 100 artists who will showcase their work at this weekend's Art on the Square in downtown Belleville. This is Richards second year at Art on the Square. Last year at the event, she won an award for best artist in the mixed media category.

For more information about Richards and her work, visit

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