Paper Love: The Ancient Art of Chigirie

Do me a favor—look at this image below, Bubblegum Moon. Tell me, do you believe that the artist used no paint to create it? I was pleasantly surprised when Barbara Harmer emailed me regarding the recent article I shared on the pros and cons of using handmade paper. She enlightened me by telling me about an art form that I had never heard of: Chigiri-e. The technique involves using bits of very thin paper to create beautiful images, like those you see here. I found it intriguing and so I invited Barbara to share more.

Chigiri-e Paper Art
Bubblegum Moon (Chigiri-e, 18×24) by Barbara Harmer

Painting With Paper by Barbara Harmer

I didn’t realized that when I went to Japan for one year to teach English as a second language it would turn into a seven-year adventure, and I would return home with a new passion: painting with paper. This ancient art form, called “Chigiri-e,” (Chee-gee-ree-ay) was brought to Japan by Chinese Buddhist Monks in 610 AD and involves tearing and cutting handmade Japanese paper to create art.

I learned Chigiri-e, (which means “to tear art”) in an unusual way. My teacher couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Japanese, so I could only observe. Because I changed the technique to reflect my own American taste, I consider myself to be self-taught in this art form.

My inspiration comes from everyday life, nature, photos, my imagination, and dreams. Sometimes the paper takes on a life of its own and dictates how the finished piece turns out. I can be going in one direction and the paper moves me in another. So I just go with the flow and it usually works out.

Chigiri-e paper art and mixed media
Purple Mountains Majesty by Barbara Harmer,

I begin either with a design in mind, or by looking at my baskets of paper. I have more than 50 baskets arranged by color in my studio. If a particular color or pattern jumps out at me, I pull it out of the basket and work from there. I always apply the background paper first, and then I work toward the foreground, cutting and tearing the paper and applying it to gallery wrapped canvas with a water based adhesive. When completed, the paper takes on the look of acrylic, and oil paint. I often have to convince people that my art doesn’t contain any paint. All the color comes from the hand-dyed, handmade Japanese paper called Washi. When completely dry, I seal the piece with a clear, non-yellowing varnish.

Barbara has been featured in magazines in Texas and California, with her art displayed prominently on the covers.
She has exhibited in numerous galleries in the Houston, Galveston, and Clear Lake, area, and has won Special
Recognition awards for her art. Her art is displayed and enjoyed in Texas, Florida, Connecticut, California,
Puerto Rico, The Caribbean, and Japan.

There are so many colors, weights, fibers, and textures of paper, that there seems to be a paper for whatever look I’m trying to achieve. The paper that I use for shading is thin and fine; it’s 10 times lighter than the weight of American tissue paper. Other papers have so many fibers included that they look like straw.

Painting with paper is eco-friendly. The fibers come from various bushes and plants called kozo (mulberry), mitsumata, gampi, and hemp. These plants are regenerated annually, so no forests are depleted in the production of washi.

I am truly addicted to beautiful handmade paper and my studio reflects that with baskets filled with gorgeous colors, fibers, textures, and different weights of handmade papers. Everyday I eagerly go into my studio with my artist’s palette arranged in baskets before me, and get lost in the rainbow of colors, ready to fantasize about my next creation. ~B.H.

Not quite collage, not quite painting . . . what do you make of Chigiri-e? I think the results are stunning.

Warm regards,

If you love paper, make sure you check out Paper Holiday, a new, special issue of Cloth Paper Scissors! It includes 31 easy ideas for a fun, handmade holiday, and more!


Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques, Paper Art and Zen Doodle


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