Following several years of research, and with a desire to leave my past in printmaking and illustration, I had a eureka moment from a gift, a book of Chinese paper cuts. I was instantly drawn to the ability of this art to transcend cultural differences and material stereotypes. Paper cuts are both ancient and modern, fragile and powerful. They are a print and a sculpture at the same time. Papercutting has a long and varied history. Embedded in it are the storyteller’s hands, the folk art of Eastern Europe and the knives of many contemporary artists. But it was these Chinese pieces that initially inspired me, and the first ever works I made followed the contours of Chinese paper decorations. ...more

More about Chinese papercutting
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Video animation: Steve Kirby, 2011

Chinese Papercutting

Papercutting, or jianzhi, originated in China, following the invention of paper by CaiLun in the Eastern Han Dynasty. The oldest surviving work dates back to the sixth century. Chinese paper cuts are also sometimes referred to as chuānghuā, meaning ‘window flower’, as they are often used to decorate windows.

In the countryside of mainland China, papercutting is traditionally a female activity, though professional artists are usually male. Up to 50 sheets of tissue paper can be cut at a time on glass or wooden blocks, and then dyed.

Chiefly decorative, paper cuts ornament walls, window lamps and lanterns, or are given as gifts. They are also sold during ceremonies and festivals to bring good luck and prosperity.

This art form has continued to develop and spread across the world, with different regions exploring their own relationship with the medium based on cultural styles. The Japanese historically imported Chinese paper cuts to use as patterns for embroidery and lacquer work. From the 1600s, papercutting spread largely through Jewish communities, from German Scherenschnitte-folk tale illustrations cut with scissors in black paper, to Polish wycinanki- colourful folk art pieces of floral motifs and rural scenes.

Crafts Council - OnView Online