Inside D.C. entertainment

Cutting things out of paper for a living

November 18, 2011 - 11:02 AM
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A rare moment of drawing for Nick Hanzlik, professional paper cutter. (Photo: TBD Staff)

Nick Hanzlik learned that he was good at using scissors in his sixth grade class at Sidwell Friends. Working on a class collage about South America, he found that he liked cutting shapes out of paper. Lucky for Hanzlik, he discovered this early.

“That skill is the basis for my entire career,” he says. “It’s the only thing I can do. It’s an odd skill.”

Years later, after leaving his job with Abercrombie & Fitch under “unfavorable circumstances,” Hanzlik landed in his parents’ basement, where he resumed cutting things out of paper. This time he attached the cutouts to greeting cards and pitched them to places like Neiman Marcus and Gump’s.

“I cold-called Barneys, and they bought it,” he explains. He estimates that it took about six months of pitching stores to sell his cards before he landed his first high-end store, Gump’s, which has sold his cards for 14 years now.

Hanzlik, a native of "north Arlington" who now lives in California, was back in town this week promoting D.C.-themed cards at Neiman Marcus in Friendship Heights. His company, R. Nichols, makes stationary, fine art, prints, custom-cards for places like Barneys, and illustrations. His creations—whimsical, linear, minimal—have graced Southern Living and the face of the ubiquitous French Women Don’t Get Fat franchise.

He says people are surprised to learn he has no art training. “I can draw-ish,” he explains, but really, he just cuts things out of paper with orange-handled Fiskars. “I always get a fresh pair when I start a project,” he says. Hanzlik now has drawers full of scissors. (“I guess I could get those sharpened.”) He has no scissor callouses because he only spends maybe 10 percent of his day cutting.

Subjects range from skinny women drinking martinis to pets (“I do a lot of dog stuff”) to florals. Hanzlik credits his success partly to being ahead of the curve. “Like, I would do a bumble bee before bumble bees became the big thing,” he explains.

Occasionally he dabbles in darker, less popular subject matter. “I’ll do a little streetlight and there’s a rat crossing under it,” he says. “That doesn’t have much appeal.”

His D.C.-themed cards hit on landmarks like Georgetown rowhouses, the Washington Monument, and less expectedly, the Key Bridge. “I thought it was just so cool-looking,” he says. “I just literally sentimentally went to my favorite things in Washington growing up.” Plus, “You’re not going to see a Key Bridge Christmas card.”

Hanzlik is now contemplating opening an art gallery, opening more stores (he currently has one in Florida), and possibly moving into the sympathy card market, which makes up a large portion of greeting card sales. (“I’m not sure how I’d do a grievance card,” he admits. “I’d rather do a dog sympathy card.”) He’s confident that the business will explode next year.

“We feel like 2012, it’s going to happen,” he says. “We have lightning in a bottle. It’s very special."

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