Saturday, July 3, 2010

Kotatsu Cat

Shortly after I ran the entry on the Glico Zoo animals, Bunny mentioned the Yamaha paper crafts site. Oddly enough, this is the website for Yamaha Motorcycles in Japan, but it has really good English support, and in the "fun for the entire family" category they have a number of Japan-oriented model paper cutouts you can build. The really big projects are the multi-volume motorcycle kits (you know that you're not looking at a simple weekend project when just the motor takes up one volume of the project). Fortunately, they're all free downloads in PDF format.

I wanted something interesting but not too difficult. I chose the Kotatsu Cat because the cat looks happy, and it's still kind of elaborate. Turns out that there's about 5 pages of parts, and 10 pages of instructions. The body alone is 13 separate pieces, and cutting the pieces out took several hours. One of the main hints is to cut just inside the lines, otherwise the piece outlines will show up where you don't want them to, such as on the face or on the body of the cat. On the other hand, you can use whiteout or white paint to remove lines if you want to. Black marker for places where the white paper edges show through.

Another hint is to only glue one or two tabs at a time, then move on to a different piece of paper and glue one or two tabs there. Go back and forth between pieces, giving the glue time to harden with each one. This way, you have a better anchor where the paper has to go through some weird folds to make the correct shape. This is a major issue for the cat's nose, which is fairly small and hard to work with; or the orange table heater curtain, which has lots of graceful curves.

Use wood glue (like Elmer's), and press the pieces of paper together with your fingers to ensure a good bond. Pre-curve or pre-fold the paper where necessary (but, it's not always necessary with the cat). The instructions suggest using card stock, but I used ordinary copy paper and it worked out fine (especially with the ears, where the paper is double-layered and folded on itself) in most cases. With the nose and parts of the body, the paper was too thin and got soggy and lost its hard fold lines with handling. Use a small scissors for cutting the detailed sections, and a toothpick to "paint" the glue on the tab areas. Sometimes it helped to apply the glue to both facing surfaces (like when assembling the trickier parts of the cat's body), but it usually wasn't necessary.

Over all, this project took the better part of 8 hours, off and on. I allowed 2 days for different parts of the cat's body to set before putting it all together. The kotatsu (the heater table) wasn't as critical, but I still gave it time to harden before putting the pieces on top of each other, to minimize warping while the paper was still damp. The big flat surfaces, like the tatami mats and the table top, still warped when I glued them together, but placing them underneath a light even weight (i.e. - the stack of instruction sheets) caused them to flatten out as they dried overnight.

The finished cat doesn't look as good as what's shown on the website, but that's to be expected since this is the first time I've tried anything like this. Overall, it was a fun challenge, and it really amazes me how much thought the artists put into the designs in order to create something this elaborate just for the cat and the heater table.

I did know about this site before, having encountered it over a year ago when I wrote up an article on the Setsubun oni mask. It's just that I hadn't come back since then, and a lot of really cool projects have been included in the last year and a half. I don't have time to do any more of these, or space to put them, (unless they come out with a maid cafe model) but they're definitely worth trying yourself. If you have a photo of the finished motorcycles, upload a link to them here as a comment.

For those of you looking for something less involved, try building the Ushio and Tora airplane, or the Ushio and Tora Car.

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