Fifteenth-century European nuns invented it, 18th-century British blue-bloods revived it, and these days, paper quilling is trendy with crafters on social media. That’s where Stacy Bettencourt learned about it, in 2014, when her cousin posted about learning how to quill. Bettencourt was intrigued, but most modern-day examples she saw online seemed cartoonish and uninspiring. So she bought herself a starter pack of paper and tools and used up every sheet she had in a single night.
Bettencourt fell in love with the art of patiently coiling colorful text-weight paper into spirals and gluing them to fit together, like puzzle pieces, on a paper canvas. She started quilling animals, flowers, monograms, and more, and soon, her creations seemed good enough to sell. A technical writer and accountant by trade, she launched her business, now called Quantum Artistic, within months of learning to quill, and she’s long juggled it with day jobs. These days, she sells to customers around the world, and she’s working on her second quilling book, a follow-up to a 2019 handbook on paper monograms. She’s teaching others too, posting online tutorials and videos that cover quilling basics and selling inexpensive templates to help newbies shape and color flora and fauna.
But Bettencourt doesn’t stick to barnyards and blossoms. A science nut, she counts animal and human anatomy among her favorite subjects. She once sold a piece depicting the male reproductive system to a urologist in Peru, and she donated a study of the female reproductive system for display at Brunswick’s Mid Coast Hospital. Lately, clients have commissioned buildings — a historic-landmark home in Chicago, a restaurant where the clients first met. “I don’t think people realize the potential of paper,” Bettencourt says. “You can cut it, shape it, twirl it, and layer it. Quilling is painting with paper.”
Tell Us More Stacy Bettencourt
How do you describe your process?
First, I like to break the paper. If you take a strip directly off the pack of quilling paper, it’s really stiff, so I break it with a bamboo stylus, which softens the fibers and makes the paper easier to shape. Then, I curl it, shape it, or use a quilling tool to create spirals I can open up and pinch to make teardrop shapes, marquee shapes, or whatever.
What’s your most popular design?
Cats have been the most popular, and I don’t know why. I have cats in Japan, Australia, the U.K., and Canada. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve made. I had a few cat-portrait photos on Pinterest that have more than one-and-a-half-million views. I have people who have been on a waiting list for nine months for my cat artwork.
Your frog-dissection piece, on the other hand, is a far cry from cute cats.
I was invited to show at a gallery and there was this really bizarre, abstract painting of a squished frog. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It reminded me that one of my favorite things in school had been dissecting pigs, frogs, and earthworms. So I was like, I am going to do a frog! I wanted to make it beautiful and playful, but also interesting. So I got the most beautiful handmade paper, and I built the frog three-dimensionally.
What inspires your work?
Everything that comes out of my fingers is something that has happened to me or has crossed my mind or affected me. I’ll get inspiration from random moments in my life. I might be running on the road and see a beautiful landscape. I might see a new bird. Something just catches my eye, and I’m like, “Oh, that would be beautiful in paper.”