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Translation of essay on cutting paper by Yoshizawa.
1. How to cut papers
In the modern world where numerous square papers are on market, there are
fewer opportunities for one to cut the paper for use. But for some pieces of
work, such as those that has been in planning for years, there are times when you
want to use a specially selected piece of paper.
When you buy and keep papers in stock, the time always comes when you want
to use that piece of paper for a particular piece of work. When you prepare
yourself physically and mentally and you fold an important piece of work using
the selected paper, it is a very joyous moment.
Traditionally in Japan, you use the traditional cutting knife to cut paper. You
place appropriately moistened paper on the ginkgo tree cutting board, place the
ruler made from magnolia tree, and by holding the handle of the knife lightly and
pulling it smoothly, you can cut the paper without making any mark on the
cutting board, depending on your level of expertise. The paper cut in this way
with the cutting knife has the best edge.
You hold the handle this way so that the wrist moves freely and lets the knife's
contact with the paper vary. You adjust the pressure by listening to the sound of
paper being cut. By doing so, you get the knife and the cutting board to do the
cutting for you.
However, although the knowledge of the traditional cutting knife is something
you should know as traditional Japanese culture, in reality, the use of ordinary
cutting knife is sufficient. Although it is true that premium papers with which
you would bother about the quality of edge are becoming less available, it is also
true that the quality of generally available cutting knives is improving. So please
look at the picture as a reference. Recently, I too have started using ordinary
cutting knife unless I am working on a special piece of work.
(Caption) Traditional cutting knife
(Caption) Do not grip the handle of the cutting knife, but let the base of the
handle rest between the thumb and the index finger so that it can move freely and
pull it using the feel of the hand.
[Pressing the edge]
Before you fold the paper you cut, you press the edges. This is to bevel the
edge, which is something that nobody else mentions, but it is an extremely
important process. By pressing the edge, you can make the edge rounded like the
folded edge. You cannot produce a good piece of work if you leave raw cut
edges. You should be especially meticulous for works that expose many raw
edges on the outside.
You press the back side of the edge first, then the front side, using your
fingernail. There are times when a bamboo or Japanese cypress spatula is used,
but the fingernail is most sensitive and best suited for this.
You should understand that the purpose of this process is not just to round the
edge, but rather to give the paper a special role by transforming it to be used for
a particular piece of work.
(Caption) [Pressing the edge] Press the edge with fingernail, backside first. The
texture of the edge is completely different before and after the pressing.
2. How to fold
[Moistening the paper]
Before folding, adjust the moisture content by moistening the paper. Moisten so
that the water goes evenly on each fiber of the paper.
The method differs depending on the paper thickness, the backing, if it?s a
Western or Japanese paper, and season and humidity. Normally, you place the
paper on a desk or a table and cover the paper with tightly wrung towel and let it
lay for a while. Sometimes, you press the paper with folded wet towel, or for
hard papers, you transfer the moisture by wiping the paper. Both Western and
Japanese papers can be classified as vertical and horizontal papers, so you move
your hand along the grain of the paper. That is, you follow the direction of the
fiber of the vertical paper.
When the paper is thick or hard, you use a mister or seal the paper in a vinyl bag,
after moistening it with a towel, and leave it overnight. Generally, hard Western
papers require more moisture while moderately thick Japanese papers with
backings do not need to be laid too long after moistening.
(Caption) When using a mister, let it lay for a while after misting so that the
moisture penetrates evenly on each fiber of the paper.
(Caption) Using a moist towel to moisten the paper. Fold the towel as pictured
and sweep it along the grain of the paper so that it will not roughen the surface.
For each piece of work you are working on, you create the rhythm as you fold.
When you succeed to create the rhythm toward the next fold, the paper comes
In the pictures, the basic folds are not made sequentially but folded all together
after making creases. The paper is placed on the table when the creases are
made, but after the basic fold, the following folds are made holding the paper in
your hands. This depends on the paper size and the thickness, but if the size
permits, it is better to hold the paper in your hands after the basic shape is made.
By folding it in your hands, you will avoid making unnecessary creases and avoid
touching the area that should be left alone, and create the rhythm that I
It goes without saying that it is important to be aware of the characteristic of the
piece that you are working on, such as the characteristic of the pigeon if you are
folding a pigeon. You must always be aware of all the ?objects/events? and
observe carefully and take mental notes. Also, you must take into account the
effect of the springiness of the paper in the finish as you fold.
But these matters are not something that you can learn by reading words of
explanation. The most important thing is to fold constantly so that you do not
lose the form. Also, remember not to become conceited, but to fold with
humility. To regard the paper as ?mine? is an audacious idea. You must
approach the paper with humility, asking it to let you work with it, and treat it
with affection. The ultimate goal is to fold without being self-aware.
(Caption) Folding a pigeon here. Make the creases and fold altogether into Basic
(Caption) Make further folds in hands, like flowing with a rhythm.
(Caption) Form the beak of the pigeon by pushing in the folds in one step. The
flow is smooth without a break in the rhythm.
(Caption) By rounding the head and chest, the folding is done for now.
When you have finished folding, you can observe the work and make small
adjustments and finish the shape while the moistened paper dries. In the pictures,
the piece is being finished by adjusting the center of weight position and rounding
the feet to give it the feel of claw.
Besides the details, it is necessary to adjust the skewness of the work. As I
mentioned in the section ?Moistening the paper?, the paper has grain, with two
directions?vertical and horizontal, so the skewness always shows up while
drying. And while it always shows up, it is not possible to anticipate it and
compensate for it beforehand.
But if the adjustments are overdone, it goes out of bound of origami and loses
the feel of origami, so it is necessary to seek balance. By learning the ?folding?
technique, it is possible to express quite a bit of details using just hands. The use
of tools such as tweezers should be done only after you gain confidence that you
can do it all just with hands.
(Caption) Make fine adjustments before the paper dries. The picture shows
rounding of feet.
(Caption) You use the handle part of the tweezers as well as the tip. The tools
are just an extension of your hand; don?t become dependent on it.
(Caption) Feet are adjusted so that it extends straight down from the center of
gravity, just as in the real pigeon. Finish by adjusting the tip of claw.
3. Backing of papers
There are several reasons for backing the papers?when the paper is too thin to
be folded and needs to be strengthened; when increasing the thickness of paper to
match the paper size for making a large piece of work. You can also combine
different colors for the front and back side of paper depending on the work, such
as black and white for a penguin. However, the primary purpose of backing is
for the keeping of the shape.
When a backed paper (or thick Western paper) is moistened and folded and fine
adjustments are made to complete the shape, after the paper dries, its shape
become fixed and will last a long time for display. While moist it is possible to
express detailed and delicate structural component of the work, such as rounded
surfaces and curved lines.
In the pictures, paper dyed with ?paper mulberry? (an Asian plant used to make
paper) is backed with a sheet of ?paper mulberry? paper, with their grains
crossed. Generally, moistened paper stretches in horizontal direction (especially
for western papers), so this will minimize the skewness. With paper with little
stretch, such as premium hand-strained Japanese papers and pool-strained
Japanese papers, the grains may be set in the same direction depending on the
(Caption for 1) Glue used in backing is made by boiling gluten, adding some aged
old glue and heating. After it cools, strain the glue and smooth it with a glue
brush. To do it properly, this should be done in a glue basin made of Japanese
cypress utilizing its wood grain.
(Caption for 2-4) Moisten the paper using mister or a towel. If the edge of the
Japanese paper is thickened, it must be scraped, and any dust or unwanted fiber
must be removed. It is highly technical work, but it must be done to make the
thickness of the paper even.
(Caption for 5) In most cases, the glue is applied on the back paper with a glue
brush. (The paper in the picture is an exception in that the front paper has more
tension strength so the glue is being applied to the front paper.) Generally, the
glue is applied evenly along the grain of the paper. There are many different
methods depending on the paper.
(Caption for 6) Place the front paper (the back paper is being used in the picture)
on top and press together using the brush stroke to push out the air bubble.
(Caption for 8) Place a thick paper on top and press in the shape of ?*?, then
stroke evenly so that paper are well cohered.
(Caption for 9) Apply glue on the edge of the paper to affix it to a board. Place a
tab on one spot to make it easy to peel.
(Caption for 10) Stand the board upright and let the paper dry. If you do not
glue the paper to the board, it will be wrinkled. When dry, peel it from the tab
(upper right) and cut the paper for finish.
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