“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.
“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.
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.
“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.