Chinese character embossing ......

'What cardboard shall I use for the cutouts'? 'How thick should the cardboard be'? 'What knife shall I use'? 'What Hanji paper shall I cover it with'? and most importantly, 'What will it look like?
These were some of the questions going through my mind as I began a new project this weekend.

For many years I've been admiring  pieces of furniture in Hanji that display an embossed effect. I first saw some at the Jeonju Hanji Festival back in 2001 and I loved the subtle effect that it gives to a piece and have been curious as to to how it's done. I've also seen it in some Korean  Hanji books  and It looked so simple and so I thought it  was  time to give it a try.

I'd made up a tall Umbrella stand and I decided it was a good base on which to apply this technique.

The first challenge was deciding what cardboard to use for the cutouts so I went with 1mm thick and cut out the designs. This was quite a challenge to say the least but I soon got the hang of it and, apart from the fact that you can only cut one at a time and not 3 or 4 as you do it paper, I soon finished the cutouts that I wanted. 

I experimented with what knife to use and started off with the small knife I normally use for paper cutouts but I soon found out that it wasn't strong enough and the blades broke really easily so I reverted to the craft knife which did an OK job. There may be a better knife but I'll research that further for future projects.  

In the end I actually used 2 different types of cardboard, one corrugated and the other compressed.  I found that the corrugated board was easier to cut than the compressed board.

Choosing a paper was the next challenge.  I'm unaware of any special paper that might be used so I went with a normal thickness plain mulberry paper. I wet the paper and cardboard thoroughly before putting them together, molding the paper into the shape of the Chinese characters. I was very much aware that too much pressure and repitition of movements could have torn the paper and I would have had to start all over again so I was really careful but I wanted to applied enough pressure to get the required effect.

As the paper has dried I've noticed that it's shrunk a little and pulled up from the embossed designs.  I've also noticed that the corrugated cardboard has compressed slightly as the paper has dried giving a smoother outline to the design whereas the compressed cardboard hasn't compressed any further and it's given the cutout much sharper lines. To compensate for the shrinkage I've been re wetting the paper and remolding the designs.  Each time I do it it's looking a little better.

I wonder how it's done in Korea? For me, It's a work in progress so I'll keep you informed as to how it's going and post pictures of the completed article when I'm happy with the results.

It may not be perfect but I hope to continue experimenting with different papers, cardboard and types of knives until I get the results I'm looking for....


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