large white paper art installation in gallery
An immersive paper art installation from Veronica Hodges.

Paper art is a versatile world that seems at once accessible (you probably have some paper in arm’s reach right now) and hopelessly complex, especially when you see the delicate, complex, and technique-laden creations of these Black paper artists. 

From the haunting cut-paper works of Kara Walker to Karina Sharif’s glorious wearable sculptures, the medium supports an incredible range of creative voices. We talked to three of our favorite artists working in the medium about their craft. All share a strong desire to tell their own stories and create deep meaning in their lives. We highly recommend following their accounts to receive regular missives of their stunning, inspiring creations. 

rosa leff portrait

Rosa Leff 

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Website –
Instagram – @rosaleff

Rosa recommends @wesleyclarkart and @skudsink for additional inspiration. 

Rosa was training her camera through a small hole in a fence, capturing a tangle of vines invading an abandoned house, when an older man appeared, uncomfortably close. Startled, she heard him mutter “but there’s nothing beautiful there,” as he walked away. Rosa disagrees. She grew up in an aging neighborhood in Philadelphia and finds grace in curls of barbed wire, sagging fence lines, and crumbling brick. “There is still something beautiful,” she says, “in this rough gritty cityscape.”

Rosa is known for her impossibly detailed urban landscapes, particularly for the whisper thin power lines she manages to slice. “I want people to appreciate those details, and the proportions, and the art of a cityscape in a real sense,” she says.

“I know it’s not possible to have photorealism in a paper cut, but that’s what I’m striving toward.”

That precision hits home. A fan of her work ponders power lines when walking her dog now. That’s one of Rosa’s favorite compliments. (Writer’s note – I’ve started to do the same. Dividing the unpredictable sky into geometric shapes, quietly carrying our community’s power – they are a kind of magic.) 

While she’s happy to share her view of the world, Rosa’s work is for herself. “I’m being selfish with my time, and I’m making art because it feels good.” Her intricate designs help her find a meditative flow state. “To have the tiny, tiny details,” she says, “you have to have your entire focus on the paper.”

Rosa’s creative drive made her feel determined to be an artist> She experimented with a range of mediums before making a cut paper children’s book for her masters degree in education. When teaching kindergarten in a high needs public school slowly broke her, she turned more and more to her artistic outlet. 

Eventually, she mastered her technique and reached out to a gallery owner on the internet. After three months of inquiries she had a show. It was thrilling. “I was like, ‘I get to put on pretty dresses and talk to people about this thing I’m super excited about, and show them what I can do?” When her travel schedule got too crazy and she was making enough to thrive, she stopped teaching. 

red city scape paper art
red city scape paper art
Leff’s intricate designs help her find a meditative flow state.

Along the way, she started cutting scenes from her life in photos as a way to put more of her voice in her work. “I moved from Philadelphia to Maryland,” she says, “and I was feeling really homesick.” She captured old photos in paper cuttings. “That’s really how I developed the style that I’ve been working in since,” she explains. Now she explores the world through a lens, hoarding photos for future projects when she’ll lay them over paper and use an x-acto knife mounted on a fingertip holder to slice out details. 

Rosa recently relocated to Puerto Rico, where she’s noticing a shift in her focus. “This is a nice, in between, sweet space,” she says. “I get my gritty city, my building’s, my crumbling walls, but I get nature in a way that is more palatable to me.” 

Like that vine growing in an abandoned building, nature is reclaiming some of the human landscape that 2017’s hurricane Maria destroyed. “You see trees growing inside of buildings and all kinds of lizards scurrying about,” she says. “There are fascinating textures at play.” 

“My work to this point has been about being in the middle of chaos, but having those still moments,” she says. The simplicity of paper cutting, just two colors with no grayscale or bright colors, helps you focus. “It makes you slowly scan the whole image and really take in these complex city scapes.” Now that she’s living at a slower pace, she’s seeking more dynamic, human interactions in her work. Murals and street art are everywhere, giving her a chance to co create with graffiti artists.

“I never set out to be a professional artist,” Rosa Says. She craved the security of health insurance and a steady paycheck, but she learned to support herself through her craft. “I tried so many medians before finding my path,” she says.

“If you enjoy creating, keep doing it. If it’s meant to take you somewhere, it will.”

veronica hodges working on paper art

Veronica Hodges

Copenhagen, Denmark

Website –

Instagram – @veronicas_birdnest

Rosa recommends@kara_walker_official for additional inspiration.

Veronica Hodges’ installations are immersive. She creates a world, one many would want to live in, but not Veronica herself. Though her husband does treasure a bouquet of paper flowers she crafted with her daughter, Veronica views her home as “mutual space,” she explains in an email. “My art is in my studio.”

Veronica is a storyteller and previously worked in the film industry. It frustrated her that so many high profile movie narratives don’t seem to go anywhere. So she turned to art, writing “I simply wanted to tell the story myself.”

Now she works to tell true stories by researching her subjects thoroughly and striving to make each character accurate and unique, an individual. “Every bird, bug, leaf must be outstanding,” she writes. “I make a lot of them, so many that they fill up a big space, and the human body becomes small.”

“I try to create pieces of healing. A place where you can feel amazed and understand…we are all small but great together.” Nature is Veronica’s “ever inspiration” and her art is meant to benefit both humanity and the Earth, so she wants her work to be seen. “I like odd places like a train station or a church,” she says. In those unexpected, everyday places, she believes there is a better chance to help people struggle with “the great question,” which is, “what am I doing with my life, and how can I contribute to change?”

“We need to open our hearts and not follow fear,” she writes. “I focus on hope for a better world, and it must begin with one and each of us.”

In her favorite work to date, Cherish Blossom, she worked with the community to install 16,000 unique paper flowers in Copenhagen’s marble church.

paper art of bird in tree
large scale paper art in gallery
Hodes works to tell true stories by researching her subjects thoroughly and striving to make each character accurate and unique, an individual.

“It was pure feminine energy,” she explains, in a place that has been defined by the masculine world of religion. It united the two beneath the blossoming flowers. Grown men gave her long hugs, and told her, “simply, thank you for this view.” Such moments heal her. 

“Everything works in circles, spirals or breaths. You evolve,” she writes. “If you choose to wake up in your life spiritually, and you find yourself in a position of giving, that is what is needed.”

Veronica’s high expectations can leave her frustrated by the limitations of her paper crafting technique. “As artists, we know when we are reproducing the past and when we are bravely stepping into new land,” she explains. “But one must do both the past work so we can pay the bills and the new work that is holding the torch of light in our existence.”

“In working as an artist,” she writes, “there is always a battle with the ego, the material, and time. The ego wants to be seen, appreciated and recognized. The material wants to glow and transform. The time is given, and then it’s time to hand over your work. One must adjust.”

Veronica lost her talented, artistic father six years ago. She was in the room with him when he passed. Their relationship was not always easy in life, but she felt the immensity of his love for her as he died. It’s been with her ever since.

“I try to lift myself to a higher level of consciousness in every step of my work,” she writes. “When I get lazy, my father taps me on the shoulder, pushing me, gently showing me that there is no going back into not knowing, even on days when I have rolled down the curtain.” 

“We cannot bloom all the time. We will wither and disappear,” she writes. “But it is not the flower that is important. It is the soil that holds all the seasons in our lives. Giving up control and wanting to contribute from a soul level is, for me, the purpose of using art to heal wounds and inner stories.”

michelle okpare in front of her paper art

Michelle Okpare

Lagos, Nigeria

Instagram – @michelle_okpare

Michelle recommends @helenmusselwhite, @yulia_brodskaya_artyulia, @marcellina_akpojotor, @bisabutler for additional inspiration.

Michelle’s mother inspired her to incorporate paper into her art, reminding her of the paper flowers she often made at home while she was working to bring an exhibition to life. “She is a major influence on my artist style and technique,” Michelle wrote in an email.

That spark led Michelle to fashion crepe paper into flowerlike textures to create arresting portraits. 

They fold around each other, casting the curves of a face in bold colors with bright eyes staring right back at you. Each subject seems to have a story. “As a good listener,” writes Okpare.

“I find myself in a position where people are comfortable opening up and sharing their stories with me, and they feel a kind of comfort after the conversation.”

Aside from the visual impact that a three-dimensional element provides, Michelle enjoys the sensation of the paper between her fingers while she works. To streamline her work, she has created a ritual of sourcing, sorting, and processing the paper and lace before applying them to a painting. She translates that visceral “sense of touch” to the canvas, helping the piece come to life. 

Inspiration is never far away, and often grows out of day-to-day interactions with people and the world around her. “Most times, the inspiration just comes unexpectedly,” Michelle writes. She sees her work as a form of documentation, chronicling her life and the times she lives in. “For me, it is important to write my own story in history,” she writes. “Telling generations to come about my existence.”

colorful paper portrait
colorful paper portrait
detailed look at paper art portrait
Okpare  finds inspiration from the day-to-day interactions with people and the world around her.

“My art has been a pathway or a diary as I center myself as the primary muse,” she writes. “I feel that every person born into this world has a purpose in life,” she writes.

“For me, personally I have always understood that I am a voice and not an echo. I have a message to pass across to the world through my works.”

Her favorite project was her first installation for the Manege Museum of Saint Petersburg, titled “Rite of Initiation.” While the work may seem simple at first glance, she writes, “it has a deep and profound meaning attached to it.” 

To an observer, it’s hard to see the massive work as “simple” in any light. The complex, symmetrical structure pays homage to Aftrica’s architectural traditions, and its bold colors echo those Michelle uses in her vivid portraits. They hold great meaning for her, and are meant to evoke strong emotions in you, to help you take a journey.

“The gate is also an entry into another space, more like a passage of initiation into the contemporary African Art world, “ she writes. It’s not an outward shift, but an inward transformation, one that is often “required of the viewers to perceive African Art,” she expands in an Instagram post.

Michelle strives to communicate positive messages in her work, but she wants them to be beautiful too.

“I believe artists have the power to imagine the world in a different way,” she writes. “It’s a feeling that I cannot fully explain. But we are world changers, thinking and perceiving things in a different way.” 

L. Clark Tate

L. Clark Tate


Clark Tate is a freelance writer and lifelong knitter. After graduating from never-ending scarves to more complex projects, Clark also graduated with a Master’s in Environmental Science. She then worked as a restoration ecologist for six years, before moving on to an obsession with braided hats and writing articles about people and the environments they live in. She’s written for Hakai Magazine, Summit Daily News, Salt Lake City Weekly, and You can find further examples of her work at