Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to make rabbits the kiri-e way

There are a number of approaches to the Japanese style of kiri-e (cut paper pictures). The Kinokuniya bookstore near me has several kiri-e books where the pattern is on one side of the colored paper and all you have to do is tear the page out and cut along the lines as instructed.  The teacher that I have learned from likes to go to the library and xerox pages from the books of Jirou Takidaira. He then staples the copy to a black sheet of construction paper and uses that as a stencil. His attitude is that even if every student uses the exact same pattern, the resulting kiri-e will be unique due to the choices of background papers used per person. Personally, I do want to try making my own pattern designs, but at the moment I'm still struggling to get the ones I'm given to come out the way I want.

(Starting out. Stencil stapled to black paper. Cutting mat and knife partly visible.)

Anyway. Start with a copy of the design you like. Staple it to a sheet of black paper. If you can get paper with a higher cotton content, it will have a patterned texture on one side. Having the textured side face up will give the kiri-e a little body. Then, just follow the instructions for chiseling a statue of a rabbit from a hunk of rock - remove all the pieces that aren't part of the rabbit.

(Finished "rabbit", with the stencil removed and the paper textured side up.)

Work from the center of the paper outwards. Don't remove the black paper from the staples until you're done, or the picture will get really hard to work with. Use a rubber cutting mat and a sharp cutting knife with a short blade and a 30 degree angle. Cut away from the corners and make sure that intersecting lines cross. Press down hard on the knife to ensure you fully cut through the black paper on the bottom. Don't worry too much about tearing something or cutting through something you didn't want to cut - you can always glue the ends back together. When you're ready to finish, cut the outer outline, remove the paper from the stencil if there's no border, or pull the staples out if there is a border. Either way, discard the remaining portion of the stencil.

(Flip side of the paper.)

Turn the black paper textured side down. This is now the outline of the picture you want to make, and the next task is to glue the right sized pieces of colored paper to the back. Be prepared to flip the outline back and forth as you try different colors to get a rough feel for how they'll look during the selection step.

I'll talk in a second about how to make sure the paper is the right size. Right now, center the paper over the back of the outline to verify the size is correct. If needed, trim any excess. If the piece becomes too small, either consider cutting a new piece and trying again, or take a smaller piece of the same paper and trim it to fit as filler.

(Gluing the door to the house.)

At the moment, I'm making the front door, which on a traditional Japanese thatched roof house was a sheet of white rice paper. The scene will be a late autumn afternoon, and light inside the house will be streaming out through the paper. So, I'll use a piece of white paper for the screen. I use a clear wood glue commonly found in Japanese post offices for gluing envelopes shut. You can just push the top of the bottle down to apply the glue to the outline (don't rub the bottle sideways or you'll get glue all over the front of the outline). I use a toothpick to kind of "brush" the glue on. With larger areas, you have to work a little faster to keep the glue from drying out or being absorbed into the paper before you're ready for the next step. Then just put the white piece, textured side down, in place over the door. Adjust it to be centered, and press down lightly to get it to adhere to the outline.

(Making the front wall of the house.)

Ok, how to get the paper to the right size. Select the kind of paper you want to use. Put it textured side down on the the table and place the outline, face down, on top of it. Using a pencil with a sharp tip, trace the pattern of the holes from the outline to the back of the colored paper. Remove the outline, and you'll have something like the photo above. Using the cutter knife, cut outside of the pencil lines by about 2mm (maybe an 1/8" of an inch). Obviously, the lines make up a full wall, so cut the paper to make one large piece for the wall.

(The front wall of the house.)

Apply glue to the area of the outline where the wall will go, and then put the wall into place and press down gently.

(Putting more of the "rabbit" back into the statue.)

From the back, you can see that I have the front wall, the "thatch" roof and the water for the waterwheel in place.

(Same picture, from the front.)

Looking at the picture from the front. I have a piece of white paper towel under the outline to make the picture stand out more for the photo.

(The picture, with all of the "rabbit" bits added.)

Just keep repeating the process of drawing the outline in pencil onto the back of the colored paper you want to use; cut the paper out with the cutter knife, 2mm outside the pencil lines; apply glue; and attach the colored paper. Remove any excess glue either with the cutter knife blade, or a toothpick.

(Finished picture.)

Take a stiff piece of white backing board and use that for the back of the kiri-e. The art supplies shop I go to will cut the backing board to the sizes I want for free. Just apply glue to the back of the entire kiri-e, and carefully set it in place on the board. It helps to have someone hold the board down for you, or it will leap up on you to attach itself to the glue and make a real mess of things. Alternatively, you can place weights on the edges of the board to keep it from moving. Soon after you're done, all the water in the glue will be absorbed into the paper and backing board and it will warp all over on you. Let the kiri-e air dry for a day or two and it should flatten out properly by itself. I've been known to put a couple heavy books on the picture (after the glue set) to help it regain shape. And then you're done, unless you want to frame it.


Karen Gmyr said...

I remember doing something like this in my Japanese class in high school and even tried to pick it back up several years ago, but never went anywhere with it. This is absolutely beautiful. Great job!

TSOTE said...

Thanks. Cutting the paper is pretty easy. I'm still having problems with gluing pieces together, though.