Arts·Paper Cuts

A lifetime in Muskoka inspired Col Mitchell to express the magic and mystery of nature with paper

Mitchell breaks down the complicated process behind her layered paper works — and how she hopes viewers get an "echo" of their own experiences in nature.

Summers on Smoke Lake in Algonquin Park still play a role in Mitchell's work

Using paper to express the magic and mystery of nature in Muskoka

3 years ago
Duration 5:43
Col Mitchell translates her time in the wilds of Muskoka into intricate works made of layered and crumpled paper. Filmmakers: Arnika Tamatoa and Jess Hayes.

This video is part of our new series Paper Cuts, in which you get to be hypnotized by artists doing incredible things with paper, scissors, glue sticks and X-Acto knives.

Col Mitchell's Instagram is kind of magical, full of the textured whorls of paper that make up her artworks. They're often portraits of animals like foxes and chickadees, taken from her own observations in Muskoka, where she lives. A childhood full of summers in Algonquin Park informed her love of nature, and working with paper has given her a world of possibilities to express it.

Mitchell makes her work by tearing, wetting and manipulating paper into a ground that she can build on. As she explains, her work is very intricate.

(Col Mitchell)

"I will do my compositional work in Photoshop," she says. "I transfer that image onto paper and onto panel and then, once that's done, then I just choose my papers. My papering process is to wet the paper, crumple the paper — essentially I'm breaking the sizing and I'm making the paper softer so it will move more easily. I'm working with it on an acrylic medium so it will slide and tear less and then forming it by hand."

"When I'm applying the paper, because I'm working with it wet, I do need to complete that work in a certain amount of time. I can keep wetting the paper to a point and then it's going to start disintegrating."

Col Mitchell working in her Muskoka studio. (CBC Arts)
There's nothing really like a clean sheet of paper because it is full of possibilities. Instead of it just being passive and accepting what I'm putting on top of it, for me, as I see it, it is heavily contributing to the piece.- Col Mitchell
(Col Mitchell)

In this video made by filmmakers Arnika Tamatoa and Jess Hayes, you'll watch Mitchell complete one of her signature works. And you'll come to understand her larger vision for her art. "I would hope that, when people look at my work, it connects with some kind of experience that they've had themselves when it comes to nature, and it would remind them of that or echo that and they would re-experience that feeling in some way."

Follow Col Mitchell here. And stay tuned for more Paper Cuts artists to come!

(Col Mitchell)


Lise Hosein is a producer at CBC Arts. Before that, she was an arts reporter at JazzFM 91, an interview producer at George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. When she's not at her CBC Arts desk she's sometimes an art history instructor and is always quite terrified of bees.