A beginner’s guide to kirie
Around the world, people have practised the simple art of cutting paper with scissors or a cutter for hundreds of years. In the earliest days of kirie, this cutter would have been a one-piece steel blade, with an angled edge like a modern art knife, and they would have to be sharpened constantly on a stone.
Kirie, which literally translates as cut picture, first appeared in Japan in the 7th Century. Initially, Shinto shrines used kirie as a kind of decoration for religious ceremonies. The tradition is still practised in some areas.
My most vivid memory of kirie from elementary school is the work of Hejiro Taki, from a book recommended by my teacher. It had a powerful impact on me at that time.
In recent years, cutouts have evolved, and the methods and rules have changed. There are many talented artists in Japan. You can find incredibly delicate lace kirie and three-dimensional kirie that are so lovely they make me gasp! When you see such incredible work, it is easy to be a little intimidated. However, kirie is something that can be fun to do, whatever your skill level.
People use a variety of techniques for making kirie. Today, I will introduce a straightforward method suitable for beginners. I hope that this will help you to become interested in kirie!
Right-click on the above image and select ‘Save as’ to download the above template
I have prepared two sample images for the tutorial. They are sized to fit on an A5 piece of card, folded in half to give an A6 greetings card. You can reduce or expand the artwork to use with other sizes if you prefer.
Things you need to make a Japanese paper cut
- Template image downloaded and printed
- A craft knife or cutter knife*
- Washi tape (or low tack masking tape)
- Black paper** (or any colour of your choosing)
- Mounting card of your choice
- Cutting mat
- Black envelopes (optional)
*Cutter knives are like a small Stanley knife, used for DIY, with snappable blades. The blades in art knives are not snappable, the whole blade must be replaced when they become blunt but they can withstand greater pressure.
**Paper is easier to cut than card and will be fine once mounted on card, but please choose according to the purpose. If for example, you go on to make a free-standing kirie you will need to use card rather than paper. I would recommend a paper weight of around 130 gsm for this kirie.
PLEASE TAKE GREAT CARE WHEN USING ANY KNIFE. BLADES CAN SNAP IF TOO MUCH PRESSURE IS APPLIED.
How to make a Japanese paper cut
1. Attach the template you want to use to the black paper using the washi tape. For this demonstration, I am using the Koi Carp.
2. You will be cutting out all the white parts of the template. It differs from person to person, but most people prefer to begin cutting from the centre, starting with the smallest areas.
In this image, I would start with the areas I have coloured pink.
Paper cutting tips
- Regularly turn your paper so that you are cutting at a comfortable angle.
- The most essential tool for any kirie work is a sharp blade!
- Start cutting near the centre of your design and the smallest areas first.
- Of the two templates I have provided, I think the snail and leaf is the more difficult one to do.
3. Next, cut out the other fins coloured pink in the photo below.
As you gain experience, you will get a feel for which areas to cut first.
Generally, you always want to start with the smallest areas first. You also want to move from the middle to the outside. In this way, you maintain some rigidity to the paper. If you cut the large areas first, the paper will become too flexible, and make it difficult to cut accurately.
4. Cut all the remaining areas in the inner part of the design.
If you notice, the tail fin has several quite long parallel lines. Again, to maintain rigidity in the paper as you are cutting, it is better to work from left to right if you are right-handed. (Vice-versa, if you are left-handed). If you cut them in a random order, you will make it difficult for yourself.
5. Finally, cut the outer part of the template and you are finished!
6. Once you have finished your kirie, you can use it for any project. In this example, I decided to make an A6 greetigs card. Before folding, I used Brusho for the background.
7. After the background paint has dried, fold the card in half, and glue the kirie.
As I mentioned above, if you print the template on A4 paper to the exact dimensions, it will fit the A5 card perfectly (which can then be folded to create an A6 greetings card). However, if you want to use the kirie in different size projects, simply adjust the print size of the template.
Of course, the smaller you print the template, the more difficult it will be to cut!
In the photo below I printed the designs a little smaller and then laminated them to make bookmarks.
I hope you enjoy this tutorial and have fun making kirie!
How did I get on making my first kirie?
My first thoughts when I saw Nozomi’s tutorial was how beautiful her designs are and I love the way she has mounted the design with the background colours wrapping around to the back of the greetings card.
My second thought was about the complexity of her designs. Are they a little tricky for beginners?
I had never tried my hand at kirie before but I was eager to give it a go.
I printed the koi carp larger than Nozomi suggested as I didn’t feel ready to tackle it at a smaller size.
While it still felt challenging, I didn’t have any real problems and I was delighted with the result. Admittedly, I have had considerable experience using an art knife or scalpel over the years. If you haven’t, you might want to draw out some simple shapes to practice cutting out first.
Here’s my finished kirie, cut with a scalpel (with a 10A blade) in 130gsm paper and mounted on watercolour paper. If I had had any fresh blades for my craft knife I would have used that as it is more comfortable to hold.
I painted the background using Arteza Real Brush Pens. I can’t wait to try making my own designs and perhaps try out some variations of the koi carp design, which is so evocative of Japanese art.
I can’t thank Nozomi enough for introducing me to kirie. Check out more of Nozomi’s wonderful kirie designs on her blog, Nozomi Design.