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The Cut-Up

by Beverly Reynolds a day ago in art

Who would have thought that using someone else’s words could help me get my point across?

My 9th-grade binder cover.

Being agents of pure, unfiltered chaos, every kid wants to cut stuff up. Forget scribbling on the walls or finger painting the kitchen table; cutting things up is the real attraction. It’s the draw of the forbidden! After all, it’s not like you’re ever denied crayons as a child. But scissors? Forget it, kiddo.

Parents offer a compromise: Enter the “safety scissors.” Now, all parties involved know that these so-called scissors can barely bend a sheet of construction paper, let alone slice the bottom of a shower curtain into ribbons. But it’s “for the best.”

That doesn’t make it any less insulting. Every kid knows that there has to be something better than safety scissors out there. Something capable of, at the very least, cutting a picture of Luke Skywalker out of an old TV Guide.

Then, one day, it happens. You’re given access to the genuine article...scissors with a real pointy end! Alas, cue THE RULES: Wrap your fist around the blades. Keep your scissors facing the floor. And whatever you do, DON’T RUN WITH THEM! (What, do you want to lose a finger?!)

I, for one, think that the air of danger around scissors guarantees their lifelong appeal. I’m not sure what the scissors-to-katana pipeline is, but I’m convinced that many a childhood dream of becoming a Ninja Turtle started with a pair of real scissors.

For me, it led to a lifetime of creating art. (Sorry if you thought this was going to be a story about how I became a Ninja Turtle; I guess I ended up less like Leonardo, more like...well, the OTHER Leonardo.) Now, I was a pretty quiet and introspective kid. We moved a lot, so I didn’t have a lot of friends. I basically had the social skills of a feral kitten turned housecat: I was cute, and I was pretty well adjusted 90% of the time, but the other 10% was spent hiding under a bed. I say this not to make you feel sorry for me, or to give you painful flashbacks to the 2019 CATS movie, but so you better understand the events that led me to a lifetime of cutting things up for fun and profit.

I think my mom must’ve felt a bit sorry for me, because she never patronized me with safety scissors. She’d set me in front of a stack of old magazines, glue sticks, and the same shining pair of orange-handled REAL scissors that had traveled with us across the country multiple times...and let me loose.

I started humbly, cutting out pictures of rhinestone-encrusted shoes and Franklin Mint collector’s plates with puppies on them, pasting their jagged edges down in a spiral-bound notebook. If my 5-year-old self could have articulated it at the time, she would have told you that it was a zen-like experience, a state of meditation that brought on a feeling of pure oneness with the universe. But since my 5-year-old self couldn’t say that, she probably would have just handed you a cut-out photo of a horse with a smile and an enigmatic whisper: “Pony.”

I loved it so much that this hobby followed me from place to place, year to year, until I had gone from precocious child artist to moody teenager with capital-F Feelings. The thing was, I didn’t exactly want to talk about them. That would have been, like, so awkward. Once again, my old pal collaging to the rescue: Why, I could just cut out words from magazines, and express myself that way, undetected! It was one thing to say “Congratulations, you’re a failure,” or “JUST SHOOT ME!”...but quite another to cut those same words out of Spin or CosmoGirl and glue them onto my disposable camera snapshots and binder covers. OK, so maybe I wasn’t being quite as subtle as I thought...but hey, it made for some pretty great souvenirs of my teenage years.

Thankfully, I am well past being a moody teenager nowadays...but I still collage almost every day. How could I not? I’ve been working on my craft since I could hold a pair of scissors. It’s part of me at this point, like the bit of gravel trapped under the ancient scab on my right knee. Of course, I rarely use my old supplies these days, opting for digital art a lot of the time. The curse of the modern age, I guess.

But a funny thing happened the other day. I was flipping through a stack of old photos from high school, and a small, cut-out piece of magazine fell out. It reads: “Tell me about it.” And you know what? I think I will. Bring on the glue sticks, baby. I’m going in.

From a homemade party invite, circa 11th grade.

Some recent collages.

Beverly Reynolds
Beverly Reynolds
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Beverly Reynolds

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