When Scissors Take Over: Interview with Cindy Vattathil

27, Cindy Vattathil.

Flying Kites, Cindy Vattathil.

Cindy Vattathil, a Bohemian mother of two from Houston, Texas, has been saving scraps of paper her whole life. Little did she know they would serve as a channel for her artistic voice. Like Matisse, she has found a youthful happiness when “painting with scissors,” and prefers the medium of collage to her old acrylic paints. Aside from her art, Cindy enjoys clipping coupons, pruning her shrubs and cutting the tags off of her family’s clothing. Needless to say, she also owns stock in the Fiskars Corporation!
We corresponded with Cindy via email for this interview.
GEEK PUFF: Cindy, what is your Artist Statement?
CINDY: I hate this part of being an artist: the old, trite, long-winded diatribe that is the artist’s statement! I could say something in earnest, proclaiming my love for all things art-related. I could be snarky and write about my ironic love-hate relationship with living the “artist’s life.” Or, I could offer up some inspiration, all in the vein of “if I can do it, so can you.” But…I won’t do any of that. 
Simply, I will be clear in stating the obvious: I enjoy my craft. It is time consuming. It causes neck spasms and headaches, occasionally. And a lot of times it feels totally in vain. But, I keep going, just like I do with my kids, because it’s what drives me. Makes me feel whole. And whether or not anyone recognizes my skills, I am happy that I have a unique way of channeling my ideas.
GEEK PUFF: What materials do you use to make your work?
CINDY: Pencil and paper are what I use to outline a new piece. Once I know what I’m trying to make, scissors take over where the pencil left off. A strong glue stick attach my pieces of paper to other pieces of paper. And, that’s pretty much it. No pixie dust. No magic. Just paper, glue, scissors and a dream!

Sisters, Cindy Vattathil.

GEEK PUFF: What technology do you use in your work? 
CINDY: Typically, I start the process by sketching out a design (insert pencil and paper, here). Once I have the general idea of what I want to create, I try not to spend too much time on the fine details. I just get the main outline going…and then it’s off to my land of paper. I dive into my many bins of colored, textured, wonderful paper and try to fish out just the right piece for just the right collage. 
My scissors take over where my pencil left off, and I carve out an image with many sharp cuts and clean snips from my trusty tool. A plain old Elmer’s glue stick seals the fate of each scrap. Modge Podge holds it in place, if I’m affixing it to a wood panel. Otherwise, that’s it! I’m about as low-tech as an artist these days can get!
GEEK PUFF: How did you come to use this method and technology?  
CINDY: I started my artist’s path as a painter. I worked in acrylics and was self-taught. I never went to school because I thought it was a waste of money. I mean, how many artists out there have bachelor’s degree and a Starbuck’s apron?! Besides, no one can teach you to speak in your own voice. So, I wanted to retain the purity of my vision (along with whatever cash I had to my name). Thus, I went straight, out of the gate, into the art world. Whatever that means. 
I always worked using a twinge of instinct about my use of color, composition and when a piece was finished. I could actually feel when something worked or didn’t. It was a particular sensation in my stomach. 
Flash forward to now: though I no longer paint, though I only work in paper, I still possess the same instincts. However, again, I am self-taught in collage. In fact, I don’t even know of anyone who does exactly what I do. It’s a new frontier. So, I feel as though I am the first person walking this path; and, in the process, I am learning as I go. It’s rather exhilarating! All I rely on are my trusty instincts and a really sharp pair of scissors!
GEEK PUFF: Describe the level of importance technology has on your work.
CINDY: Technology is just something in the background. Noise. Stuff. Whatever. My husband is a computer guy, so he’s the first to hear my complaints about troubles I have scanning images or difficulties I face when trying to send pictures through email. But, aside from reaching out, marketing, and showcasing my work, it really doesn’t impact what I do at all. If I were on a deserted island, far from human contact, I would still create! A lack of Facebook posts would offer zero “likes,” but I wonder if there also wouldn’t be a greater sense of inner-peace!
Final Houston

Houston, Cindy Vattathil.

GEEK PUFF: What is your creative process?  
CINDY: I guess I talked about this already above. I sketch out my ideas first, then find the right paper for each particular project. Once I have my paper, I use my happy, orange-handled scissors to go to town and cut random shapes (which, hopefully, end up forming more recognizable shapes). Sometimes I use an Exacto knife for tiny inside cuts. Finger nails often help to navigate small pieces to their rightful place. And then, there is occasionally the use of tweezers (though this is really rare)! Add glue sticks. Lots of sticky fingers. Lots of washing hands in between sections. Then, the finished product is either scanned, framed or coated in a sealant. 
I do like to have music playing in the background, but since I work primarily during my son’s naps that isn’t always possible. I should talk about that, I suppose: being a stay-at-home mom and trying to work in the slivers of time known as nap time! It’s a delicate balancing act, for sure. Especially when I have a deadline at hand. But if there aren’t enough hours in the day, there’s always night! Whatever the time of day, I just do my best and keep going until it “feels” done!
GEEK PUFF: What makes your work successful to you?
CINDY: Success is a funny word. Does it mean a big payday? Or 50,000 followers on Twitter? Or a flash-in-the-pan meme that gets referenced on a late night talk show? I don’t know. I still have yet to figure it out for myself. 
Culturally, we value all of the wrong things, so I have come to believe that being rejected by the Kardashian-loving, trend-worshipping, drive-through burger-eating society of ours is not a bad thing. If you create art, then you should create it for the act of doing so. Not for how many dollars or “likes” you will get. Creation, in and of itself, is a success because you are doing what most other would not dare to do – be vulnerable and offer something special for the world to possess.
In my own experience, the best success I’ve ever had was the birth of my children. Trite and corny, maybe. But, 100% true. They are my muses. They are my second (and third) pairs of eyes. And they are reliably honest, even in a world full of false facades. If they like what I do, then I know I’m doing something right!
Tuscany, Cindy Vattathil

Tuscany, Cindy Vattathil

GEEK PUFF: Explain how your work crosses into STEAM fields.
CINDY: I always loved science as a kid. Technology, to me, still means Pac Man and clunky IBM machines. Engineering (out of necessity) has become useful as an adult. But math and I…well, we aren’t even on speaking terms. It’s a subject I have always loathed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it exists…but I was just not wired with those skills. So, instead of my work crossing into STEAM, it really just floats in the realm of the letter A. And that’s okay for me. No one gets to be good at all things. Except Da Vinci. But, of course, he was from Outer Space! 
GEEK PUFF: Any advice for our audience?  
CINDY: Be you. There’s no higher achievement than being original!
GEEK PUFF: Is there anything else we need to know? 
  • My favorite artist is Van Gogh.
  • I wear sandals all year long.
  • Bread consumption is my biggest vice.
  • I have never chewed gum, watched a ball game or ordered a coffee from Starbucks.
  • I once met Little Richard. He complimented my dress and gave me a book about Jesus. I still have both.
Cindy Vattathil

Cindy Vattathil in her studio.