Chigiri-e is a Japanese art form that uses hand made and hand dyed Japanese paper called washi to create images, transforming into beautiful pieces of art. If you just saw chigiri-e from a distance, it looks similar to a water color or sometimes an oil painting. But, then upon closer inspection you realize that the image is actually created with paper and it takes one imagination by surprise.
In Japanese, chigiru means to tear or shred and “e” (eh) means picture. The technique begins with tearing washi into small pieces to create depth, texture and dimension for the image, a method similar to collage. The pieces are then pasted onto an art board – like painting with paper.
Washi plays an important role in chigiri-e, as the characteristics of an image is partially determined by the type of washi used. The thickness, fiber content, quality, gradation of the dyes all contribute to a dynamic art form that comes alive through the skills of the artist.
Chigiri-e has a history of over 65 years, very short for a Japanese art form. The story goes that a famous artist picked up precious bits of paper after the devastation of Tokyo and other cities after World War II, and created a beautiful picture – thus was the beginning of chigiri-e. Actually, the use of washi to create images was seen on screens from the Heian Period, over 1,000 years ago. However, there was no “official” designation that this was an art form, it was initially just in pursuit of beauty and creativity. In the 1960’s, a traditional kimono school in Tokyo, Hakubi Kimono Gakuen, took this method and spread the art to many of their students who were also studying other forms of Japanese art and culture. Today, it has grown into a real Japanese art form bringing it to a new level of inspiration. And one of the earlier students at Hakubi was my mother, Lily Nakao. The image above is one of her original creations called “Beehive Ginger“.
My mother enjoyed chigiri-e and it resonated with her sensibilities so much that she wished to spread this art form outside of Japan. Upon retiring to her home in Honolulu, she began volunteering to teach others at the Senior Program of the Moiliili Community Center. If you live in Honolulu you can take her classes there so please click on the link. It has now been 15 years, and her enthusiastic students extend not only in Honolulu but to Hilo, Hawaii as well. I was most fortunate to visit her class recently in Hilo where I met all the talented and enthusiastic chigiri-e budding artists!
As I am a student of feng shui, what fascinates me about chigiri-e is the method of tearing. My master always says that there is energy in our hands. That’s why I find that the act of tearing with our hands produces a completely different energy from using a metal pair of scissors: tearing vs. cutting. The difference between a clean cut edge and a soft fibrous edge produces a completely different feeling and this is the difference in energy. Also, from the material standpoint, each sheet of washi paper is produced by many hands. Then the washi is hand dyed. More hand energy is added to the paper. If you break down the whole process from the beginning of the paper making to the end of creating an image, it is completely created by hands!
Those many hands make each piece of art so special and maybe that’s why there seems to be so much energy in each picture, regardless of technique. This energy has a magnetic power that pulls you into the image, giving a very good feeling – what I call good qi! If you get a chance to see chigiri-e, please take the opportunity to observe the art form and even have a try at it yourself. For the rest of us who do not have access to chigiri-e, we will enjoy the art of those who are so gifted and talented from afar!