Chinese Papercuts
April 16, 2008 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Chinese papercuts are an art form with a long history. Traditional subjects are popular, but more contemporary ones are also available. Who makes them? This man, and all the people listed on this page, and many more. If you find some you like, you may be surprised at the price.
posted by Kirth Gerson (21 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I've got a pretty simple papercut that I picked up at a sort of gallery place. I was pretty astounded at the price, something like $5 for what looked like it must represent hours of work by someone pretty talented.

There must be some trick to doing them quickly, because I'm assured that the person who made the one I got was working in fairly pleasant first-world conditions.
posted by gurple at 11:48 AM on April 16, 2008

Those Chinese papercuts hurt like the devil!
posted by Crabby Appleton at 12:03 PM on April 16, 2008

What, you couldn't even muster a "death by a thousand papercuts" joke?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:31 PM on April 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love these and always try to get some new ones for the windows come Spring Festival. Never have yet got to see exactly how they are made or know much of the history, so particularly enjoyed the SACU article. The ping-pong players not so much - tradition is tradition for a good reason, I say.
posted by Abiezer at 12:43 PM on April 16, 2008

I also got a few for less than 5 bucks each, at Chinatown in Montreal. Surely they're not hand made for that price? There must be a big ka-chunka device that stamps them out... if people are cutting these things with scissors or an x-acto I feel guilty and colonialist. :-(
posted by fleetmouse at 1:08 PM on April 16, 2008

thanks Kirth - these are beautiful - and you're right, i'm surprised at how cheaply they sell these for

"There must be some trick to doing them quickly..."
well, hopefully it's not the old trick of "exploitation for no pay" - here's hoping it's that other, older trick called "years & years of practice"

when i was a wee lad, i remember seeing a bent old guy at a street fair doing these - he busted out an ornate leaping tiger surrounded by flower blossoms in just a few minutes - the paper literally twirled in his hands as he worked - i remember that the scissors he was using seemed gigantic, far too big for the delicate work he was doing - it all seemed like magic to me at the time
posted by jammy at 1:11 PM on April 16, 2008

they use SCISSORS?! not an exacto or anything?
posted by shmegegge at 1:50 PM on April 16, 2008

Fantastic post. There are some great examples of this at the Seattle Asian Art Museum (although I think those are Japanese) and I always just stand and stare at them endlessly. I wonder why they use scissors, though--doesn't it seem like an x-acto type knife would be easier?
posted by Enroute at 1:50 PM on April 16, 2008

posted by Enroute at 1:50 PM on April 16, 2008

A page that I didn't link to encouraged the public to value traditional methods of papercutting using scissors, rather than knives or other methods. That seemed to imply that some are using knives. The pages that name the artists seem to feature scissor-cutting, though.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:57 PM on April 16, 2008

I've been to China and I've seen papercutters in action. I also have a large collection of amazing papercuts, all purchased at what seems like ridiculously low prices for the skill required to make them.

Here's the trick. They're made in batches. Many pieces of extremely thin paper (twenty? thirty?) are stacked together and clamped at the edges. Then the papers are cut en masse by hand with scissors, knives, and little picking and poking tools (used to remove pieces of paper too small to be removed with the point of a knife.)
posted by shinybeast at 2:02 PM on April 16, 2008

On the "long history" part of this, see this website (below) of books on the subject. THe Goodrich book is charming and intelligent... it is probably available in university libraries.
posted by yazi at 2:27 PM on April 16, 2008

Why didn't it link? I hilited it and pressed "link" Sorry.
posted by yazi at 2:31 PM on April 16, 2008

I don't even have the patience to do this with frickin' laser beams.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:00 PM on April 16, 2008

I picked up a nicely framed one at Goodwill years ago-I think I paid two bucks for it. It is an elaborate landscape of the Great Wall of China-I always wondered what the history behind it was, and how it was done.
posted by konolia at 3:03 PM on April 16, 2008

How the heck do they do that by hand?
posted by majikstreet at 3:26 PM on April 16, 2008

"Here's the trick. They're made in batches. Many pieces of extremely thin paper (twenty? thirty?) are stacked together and clamped at the edges."

wow, shinybeast, that's amazing - i had no idea

but i can't get my head around how they deal with slippage & buckling - i sometimes make books & have had many occasions to try to cut several pieces of paper in the same way all at once - even when i've clamped them with pressure clamps, it doesn't prevent the paper from rippling, binding, slipping, etc. - it's harder than it might appear at first because paper is both more flexible & more fragile than it seems

well, harder for me, that is - maybe there's a trick to the trick, eh?

shmegegge: it's a little counter-intuitive but a good pair of sharp scissors can be more accurate for cutting than an exacto - i think it's because with scissors you actually have the leverage necessary for precise cutting present in the instrument itself (the V of the scissor blades), whereas for exacto work you need to rely on/deal with the relationship between the material being cut & the surface it is on - this has been my experience, at least

sharpness, though, is the key - i'm hoping someday someone patents a way of making exactos out of obsidian

posted by jammy at 4:33 PM on April 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

majikstreet, here are some more examples of Chinese 'how'd they do that':

Snuff bottles painted by hand - on the inside. They're about 3 or 4 inches high. (I think the 'first grade' on that page means first quality, not that schoolchildren painted them.) Some of them are astounding.

Carved cork 'pictures' made by hand. They're actually little 3-D scenes. The ones in that link are supposed to be antiques, but you can buy similar ones new on Amazon. Note the prices.

Puzzle balls. Also available on Amazon. The one they're selling is made from 'synthetic ivory,' but they are more commonly carved from jade. Much cheaper in China, if you know someone who's going there.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:51 PM on April 16, 2008

They also make pretty neat ads - see "the perfect cut".
posted by dabitch at 1:04 AM on April 17, 2008

Jammy, no obsidian, but there are ceramic blade knives for paper cutting (see krazy cutter).
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:05 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

thanks for the tip, BrotherCaine!
posted by jammy at 5:25 AM on April 17, 2008

« Older Take it to YouTube   |   Anyone know any lawyer jokes? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments