Hanji : An Experiment in Paper

“The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”
― Woody Allen

Last August, a month after we moved to Seoul, I crumbled into pressure, and reluctantly gave up my reclusive ways for cultural classes at the local centre for expats and tourists. I dabbled in paint, Hanji crafts, calligraphy, and even Jagae (mother of pearl craft). These classes were a great way to escape the initial pangs of expat life and meet new people.

I’ve never been captivated by craft. I do love paper though. The smell of dog-eared pages of an old book or a freshly printed notebook are unparalleled highs. I wasn’t surprised that I got drawn to Hanji and less than a year later, in the month of May, I began my Hanji Certification Course.

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
― Pablo Picasso

So what is Hanji? I have yet to visit a traditional centre where Hanji (Korean handmade paper) is made. Here’s what I know though: after a series of elaborate treatments, the pulp from the bark of the mulberry tree transforms into Hanji paper. Hanji looks innocuous at first glance. Good for scrapbooking you’d think? And that’s where its genius lies.

1. Learning the Craft

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
― Pablo Picasso

Cardboard frames form the base for most Hanji creations. A combination of glues (super glue, white craft glue, hot glue, and yellow adhesive glue) give shape and form to limp pieces of board. The size of the project determines the amount of pressure to be applied. Apply too much pressure and you might bend the board. Too little will leave you with gaping holes. This is by far the least fun part of Hanji.

And then comes the part of gluing Hanji paper to the frame. Hanji glue is a gelatinous liquid that moistens the paper and helps attach strips of paper to the frame. It’s not always as easy as it looks, especially, if you’ve got pockets of air trapped between the paper and frame. And once you’ve got it all pasted — you get a cabinet like the one below. Add a dab of varnish — and an artist if born.

Mini Cabinet

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”
― Vincent van Gogh

2. Making a Splash out of it

My teacher is one of the key Hanji coordinators in Seoul’s Songpa District and had been gearing up for a special Hanji exhibition for months. Quite naturally, the pressure was transferred to her 4 expat students, in the advanced class, at the cultural centre. After some nervous moments and hours of hard work — three of us submitted our projects to the exhibition.

My table being inspected by the chief guest

Last Monday, the week long exhibition was formally inaugurated at Dasom Gallery in Songpa Public Library. A local politician gave a speech and was joined by some other important chief guests. The ceremony was a blur to me as everything was in Korean. Fortunately, a Korean lady (who turned out to be my teacher’s friend) befriended me and doubled as my English translator. Nearly all the participants won a certificate from the Korea Paper Society and due to the confusion in names — I missed collecting mine.

A close up of my bleach style Korean table.

“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.”
― George Bernard Shaw

 3. Realising there’s a long way to reach perfection

“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
― Francis of Assisi

It’s quite fascinating what you can do with layers of Hanji. Intricate designs can be cut into Hanji to form delicate patterns (projects above) or objects of daily use (projects below) can be born.

“Imagination governs the world.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte

Talent, style, and technique came together under one platform. Some projects paid homage to tradition…

others paved the way for modernism.

“I don’t paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality.”
― Frida Kahlo

Not to be left behind, the children showcased their work and dominated the audience of the exhibition.

Those who had patiently waited until the end of the ceremony — were rewarded with traditional Korean sweets and snacks. All in all, it was a fantastic experience, and an evening well spent.

 

40 responses to “Hanji : An Experiment in Paper

    • Makes me want to pull out my paper making supplies…not as technically intricate as Hanji but I love working my hands in the pulpy water and getting creative with plants, fibers, and textured presses. I have lost many weeks otherwise spent in housework this way. A wonderful pasttime for the changeof seasons.

    • Thanks, Kitsy! 🙂 Hanji is a fascinating craft and I’m amazed by what can be done with paper and glue. I’m hoping to make a trip to Jeonju to get a better understanding on the process of making the paper. Till then, it’s classes, projects, and a lot of patience. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by. Means a lot! xo Cheryl

  1. What a fascinating craft Hanji is. I’m not particularly crafty but this looks good. Loved all your quotes throughout too Cheryl. A terrific post. 🙂

    • I wasn’t quick to fall in love with Hanji. Initially, it was about making friends. And I’ve met some wonderful people from different parts of the globe because of these classes. These days, I’ve become more serious about the craft itself. I completed level 1 last week! Yay! How have you been, Miriam? Trust things are good? I do miss our little chats and weather updates. lol.

      • Hey Cheryl, so glad you’ve made friends and that you’ve grown to love the craft, that’s awesome.
        I’m well. Ok let’s see. Today is mild and cloudy with a touch of rain. I’ve been out planting my tomatoes and soon I’m off for a treat to get my hair done. It’s my birthday today. 52. I have a birthday post coming out in five hours, where you’ll hear me sing, ouch! 😊🎼 Hope you’re well Cheryl xo

      • Oooohhh!! Are you born in September too? Why am I not surprised! 🙂 Wish you a very happy birthday! Hope you have a wonderful, wonderful day, my dear friend! Sending you a warm, tight hug from sunny Seoul. I can’t wait to read/ hear your post! 🙂 xo

      • Thank you my dear friend. I’m writing this in the hairdressers chair. The new colour is in and I’m waiting for it to set! A big hug back to you Cheryl from Melbourne. Talk again soon xo 🙂

      • No worries. Let me know what you think, I’m not sure I’ve embedded it properly so I’ll be interested to know if you can play it. Thanks Cheryl. x 🙂

  2. Oh wow, I didn’t realise there was a whole art to this in Korea…such a fascinating craft…and to think you were taught by such an expert, I am amazed….love that table that you made by the way, never would have thought it was all paper…do you plan to continue studying the craft?

    • You didn’t? It’s pretty popular in Insadong. the arty shops sell ready Hanji boxes or lamps. I can’t believe I’m still doing it. Shelley, Agri and Naia were there to support me! I’ve finished level 1 of the certification course. Got two more levels to go. I hope to finish by next May or June — if all goes as planned. It’s getting more difficult with each level!

      • Ahhh, I didn’t really visit Insadong that many times whenever I visited Seoul actually…haha…especially when I’m there alone, will need to keep an eye out for it next time I visit now….I think it’s pretty cool that they even have a certification course for it…such an interesting course to go through, glad that Shelley and family were there to give you support…you already have fans!! Yay!! Hahaha….good luck in getting through the other levels too, it’s always more rewarding at the end when the going is tough…hwaiting!! 🙂

  3. It’s also included patient, Cheryl. Now you are decribing it so detail, I can feel how hard to make one. I mean, now I feel it’s so much much harder works.
    And congratulation for your joint exhibition. That was awesome. I like all of your art works. It’s all lovely and delicate. I could feel the inspector amazement over your bleach style Korean table. It looks quaintly beautiful ❤
    Yes, the usable hanji is fascinating.

    • haha…Now you know what I was talking about that day! 🙂 I’m so hooked to it. I’m not patient, but it definitely a good exercise in patience. 🙂 Thanks so much for your support, Yuna! It was quite satisfying to be part of a local exhibition. Have a good week! Hugs.

    • Aww! I wish I could have given you one of my better works. 😦 I so thought of you on the day of the exhibition. Had you been here — you’d definitely be there to support me! Miss you loads! xo

  4. Your little Korean table is a beautiful work of art. You must have derived a lot of satisfaction from completing this intricate project. Hope the mix up has been cleared and you got your well-deserved certificate in the end. Well done, Cheryl!

    • It took more than 10 hours to work on the table. Phew! Pretty frustrating for me. I’m definitely low on patience. 🙂 Yep! I got my certificate after the ceremony. This experience took me back to school! 🙂

    • Yes! It’s very similar to Papier-mâché and decoupage. I always struggle with the refined bit. 🙂 Thankfully, my teacher is patient and is a pro when it comes to covering my mistakes. 🙂

  5. I think I would love to do this. Not so much the human figures, but the geometric ones. I don’t do many crafty thing at home, but when I get a chance, I always like the mind-clearing nature of focusing on work like this.

    • Strangely, the human figures/dolls aren’t very commonly taught here. 🙂 These days, our tiny apartment is filled with Hanji supplies. Basil thinks the addiction is getting out of hand. lol. I think you would have definitely enjoyed a lesson in Hanji. 🙂

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