Nearly everyone is familiar with the concept of origami. The story of the thousand paper cranes is nearly legendary, and most are familiar with the concept of a paper airplane. But what about kirigami?
Kirigami is a cousin of origami in that it also uses the technique of folding paper to make wonderful and delicate art. Its name comes from two Japanese words. The difference is kirigami allows you to cut the paper as well. This article will deeply dive into what kirigami is, how it was developed, and who some of the most notable artists of this art form are. Keep reading to learn more.
What is Kirigami
In the simplest terms, the term kirigami is the art of cutting and folding paper. It is similar to the Japanese art of origami, wherein you fold paper to create a certain shape. Kirigami takes origami one step forward by allowing you to cut the paper as well, elevating the paper designs into three dimensions.
In most cases of kirigami, a single work is usually done with a single piece of paper. In some rarer cases, an artist may choose to use multiple pieces. When these pieces of paper are put together to make the final form, in most cases, they are locked together using particular folds or tucks. In most cases, kirigami does not use glue. Some kirigami artists may use glue or double-sided tape after the piece is complete just to give it stability.
A History of Kirigami
These next sections will go over the history of kirigami, from its conception to its developing years to today.
Kirigami History Through Origami 1300 – Present
Before we get into the history of kirigami, we need to give a few words to origami. As mentioned above, kirigami was developed out of origami. Origami is well known as the Japanese art of folding paper.
This art form can be separated into stylized ceremonial origami and recreational origami. Most people will be familiar with recreational origami.
There is evidence of origami as far back as the 1300s, several hundred years after China introduced Japan to paper technology. The earliest mentions of origami include paper butterflies used in weddings and other celebrations.
Kirigami History 500 – 1900
The term kirigami didn’t exist for quite some time at first. In the beginning, it was just considered another form of recreational origami. There has been evidence of Buddhist priests cutting and folding small ornamental pieces for festivals.
The first cut-paper art pieces were usually symmetrical and were thought to represent things like elegance and perfection.
Another ancestor of kirigami can be seen in the ancient Chinese art of jianzhi. In this art form, paper cutouts were made to help people pay respect to their ancestors and deities. Since the Chinese began with the invention of paper, this art form can be seen as far back as the 6th century, well before China introduced paper to Japan and before the first mentions of origami.
It wasn’t long after this period that jianzhi took on a hobby status and became an activity in which children and women would participate.
Kirigami History 1900 – 1962
Papercraft became a staple in Chinese and Japanese art several centuries after its conception. Origami remained the far more well-known of the two, but both were practiced in some capacity.
It wasn’t until 1962 that kirigami finally got its name. The name’s creation came with the spike in popularity that origami and Japanese paper crafts received in the 1950s. One of the leading pioneers of bringing origami and kirigami into the western world was Florence Temko. Florence single-handedly spread origami through the United States thanks to her 55 published books on the subject.
It was Florence that gave the word kirigami its name in 1962. She took inspiration from the Japanese language by taking the Japanese words for cut, “Kiri,” and the word for paper, “kami.” Together the two became kirigami, as named in her book, “Kirigami, the Creative Art of Papercutting.” The book was successful enough that the word kirigami became the accepted name for this art form of cutting and folding.
Kirigami History 1962 – Today
You have probably tried kirigami, even if you didn’t know at the time that was what it was called. Some of the easiest forms of kirigami are thinking like cutting out paper snowflakes. Another common form of kirigami is a single piece of paper that is folded in half, and then intricate cuts are made so that when you open the paper back up, you are left with a standing figure. For this, think of something like a popup book or card.
Moving into the future, several artists continue to pursue the art of kirigami, crafting ever more intricate pieces for everyone to enjoy. In the next section, we’ll cover some notable artists who have and are continuing to make their way with kirigami art.
Notable Kirigami Artists
This section will cover notable kirigami artists. We’ll talk a little bit about their histories, where they studied, and the notable works of each artist.
Masayo Fukuda was born on October 26, 1973. She began learning the art of paper cutting as a young woman, and with over thirty years of experience, she honed her skills into the celebrated artist she is today.
She is self-taught in cut-paper, beginning with a simple birthday card for a friend in 1991. Over the years, she honed her skills.
In 2014 Masayo Fukuda finally had the first solo exhibition of her paper-cutting artwork, and she has only continued from there. She likes to see how far she can push the art using a single piece of paper.
All of her paper-cutting art is of wildlife. Her most notable work include Octopus and Remaining Dream (an angler fish).
Nahoko Kojima was born in Hyogo, Japan on October 2, 1981. She started to learn the art of paper cutting at the age of five from a private tutor and throughout her early years. In 1999 she moved to Tokyo and pursued a degree in design from the Kuwasawa Institute.
After graduation, she pursued a career in Graphic Design until she moved to London to explore more of the western arts.
In 2007 she had her first exhibition, showing off her five senses collection. By 2009 she had leaped from being a professional paper cutter full-time. In 2010 she opened her studio in Central London and created several stunning collections.
Her most notable works include the Kiku Flowers, The Cloud Leopard, and Alice. Despite the fragility of paper, she is known for her massive installation pieces, including a life-sized paper sculpture of a whale.
Pippa is an artist based out of Yorkshire, England. She started her journey in the art of paper cutting in 2010 when she started to cut shapes from a single sheet of paper. Her technique is to hand draw the design first and then cut the image from the reverse side using a scalpel.
Most of Pippa’s work is inspired by nature. She has many pieces containing floral elements, animals, and other greenery. Her most recent pieces have also integrated images of people into her works, juxtaposed on a bed of floral designs.
Another element that makes Pippa stand out is her use of color in her cuttings, such as a snake that fades from pale blue to black. She uses acrylic paint to add color. Pippa’s pieces tend to be small, many fitting just beyond the palm of her hand.
Her most notable works include Terra, Afterwards, and Day and Night.
Marc, also known as the Paper Dandy, has been named “The Dark King of Kirigami.” Marc started in 2012 when he felt he needed a break from his digital career as a design lead at an advertising agency. He took a step back to focus on his passion project, which became known as Horrorgami. Horrorgami was a collection of 13 kirigami works designed around the horror genre.
Since his initial exhibit, Marc has written several books on kirigami and is well known for combining movie sets and kirigami. Outside his personal collection, he has also made pieces for big-name clients like Samsung Galaxy, Procter & Gamble, and the London Transport Museum. He has been featured in Wired, Mashable, CNN, and BBC World News.
Marc is most well known for his Horrorgami collection. He is also known for his Star Wars-themed collection, “Cut Scene, inspired by Star Wars.”
Hina was born in Yokohama, Japan, on December 27, 1970. She started her life as a paper cutter in 2000 when she began a collection of super fine and lacey cuttings. She is known for combining the art styles of Japan and Switzerland in her work. She does all her work with a single piece of paper and scissors.
While her work is often based on nature, the pieces are so small and intricate that they usually have a fairy-tale-like feel with the use of flowers and butterflies.
Hina Aoyame has said that she finds the process of paper cutting to be “the best psychiatrist in the world.” She finds her work deeply calming and meditative, which is good when considering that a piece can take her months to complete depending on the size and intricacy.
Today Hina Aoyame continues to work and live in France. Some of her most notable pieces include incredibly delicate papercut letters and lace-like a butterfly with needle-thin solid lines.
Last but certainly not least of our artists is Monika Cilmi. Monika Cilmi was born in Catania, Italy. Monika is better known as a professional artist for her paintings than for her kirigami. She is a painter full of color and movement, often feeling naturalistic with inspiration from shamanism. She takes inspiration from eastern art styles, as some of her paintings appear almost like calligraphy.
Despite being better known for her paintings, Monika is an expert in origami and kirigami. She wrote and published one book on kirigami, “Kirigami: Fold and Cut to Create Beautiful Paper Art,” in 2018, a book of simple kirigami designs.
Today Monika calls the UK home. Her most notable works include a colorful painting of a woman amid curving lines like the sea backed by a yellow circle. Another is a rainbow-colored tree reminiscent of the tree of life.
Process of Kirigami
In this next section, we’ll go over how you can do kirigami works. We’ll review the three main steps in this art, scoring, cutting, and folding. We’ll also detail how these steps will affect the finished work.
One step in the process of kirigami is scoring. Scoring is the process of making fold lines or small indents in paper to make it easier to fold later. A simple example is that the centerline of a greeting card is often scored before being folded.
Some may be asking why you should score the paper instead of just folding it. The answer is that scoring gives you more control over the folding process. Scoring also helps to create cleaner folds and fold symmetry.
Another reason to score paper is simply for decorative effect. Lines in the otherwise flat paper can give a kirigami work a sense of dimension even if it is never fully folded.
A common scoring instrument is a bone folder. While this tool is usually made of plastic, not bone, it is a wide, flat tool that curves to a rounded point at one end. It is very similar to a butter knife. If you are scoring straight lines, you can also use things like a runner or specially-made scoring boards.
Arguably one of the most important parts of kirigami is the cutting. Cutting is what sets kirigami apart from origami.
For the cutting process, you have a few options. Some kirigami artists like to draw out the cut lines first. This gives them a better sense of where to cut and gives more room for mistakes. You can also start cutting it if you prefer to go with your intuition. We recommend drawing out a plan first and then cutting if you’re just starting.
Once the design is drawn, some artists like cutting from the reverse side, while others cut on the front side. This is mostly up to you and what creates the better result for you.
For cutting tools, again, you have some options. Scissors are a common tool but can be harder to use for super intricate cuts. Something like a craft knife or scalpel will make more intricate cuts easier.
A tool like a ruler or other straight edge may be useful for straight lines. If you’re using a knife of some kind, you may also want a self-healing mat to work on. This type of crafting mat can be cut into again and again and still be usable afterward.
Lastly, it may be handy to have some good lighting for the cutting process so you can see exactly where you are cutting. For super intricate pieces, good lightning can save you from cutting too far and ruining a piece.
Usually, the last step in kirigami is folding. Not all kirigami pieces need to be necessarily folded, as some kirigami art is the paper cutting itself.
For three-dimensional works, folding brings the work from flat to standing. Fold symmetry can be important for some designs.
Assuming you scored and cut the piece beforehand, you likely won’t need any additional tools for this step. If you are folding a cut piece, we recommend going slowly, just in case of any cuts you miss or need adjustment. This will help to avoid any tearing. A common fold type is valley folds. Take note of your fold symmetry if needed.
After the folding process is complete, you can find a way to mount the piece if desired. Some artists even add elements like lighting and color to help elevate the artwork even further. Lighting can create shaded areas.
Basic Kirigami Art Projects
In this next section, we’ll review some of the most basic kirigami projects you could try at home. All of these are beginner-friendly and an excellent place to start for someone who wants to try this art out. Another beginner-friendly project would be paper snowflakes.
One of the oldest mentions of origami comes from butterflies used at weddings and other ceremonies. For that reason, there is no better place to start a kirigami project than a simple butterfly.
This simple kirigami butterfly will be cut into a flat piece of paper, and the wings will be folded to make it look like it is sitting on the page.
You can start by outlining a butterfly on a piece of paper. Once you have done that, take note of where the “body” of the butterfly is. When you do your cutting, you will cut out the wings’ shape, but you will leave the body still attached to the paper.
Once you have finished cutting, you should be able to gently fold the butterfly wings, so they are lifted away from the paper slightly.
If you want to make your design more intricate, you could add more cuts to add more details to the butterfly.
A kirigami flower can be made in a very similar way to a kirigami snowflake.
You can start with a piece of paper and fold it in half. Fold it in half again and again so that you are left with a paper triangle.
Before you start cutting, note what edge of your triangle will become the center of your flower, depending on how you fold it.
For your first cut, round out the outer edge on the opposite side of this center point. You should end up with something that looks like a teardrop.
Next, you will be making the flower center. Your next cut will start at the center point, go up about a third of the way, go around in a small circle, and then back down to the center point. The shape you just cut out will look something like a matchstick.
Now when you unfold your paper, you should have a flower. You can go online to find other ways to cut your flower for more intricate designs.
The last project is a popup card. One option would be to use your butterfly cutout as the middle of a greeting card. Pop up cards can be made with any image or theme.
For a simple card that moves with you when you open and closes the card, however, let’s start with a heart.
Start by scoring and folding a piece of paper into a blank card. Now open the card back up.
Draw the shape of a heart at the center of the card so that the top end and the bottom point of the heart line up with the line of the card.
Next is your cut. You will want to cut out the shape of the heart except for a small straight section on either side. Once you do this cut, the top and bottom of the card should be free to move while the sides are still attached to the rest of the paper.
Gently invert the fold on the inside of the heart so that it pops out at you as you close the card. When you open it, the heart will open up for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Finally, we will go over a few frequently asked questions about kirigami.
How does origami compare to kirigami?
The only difference between origami and kirigami is that kirigami includes cutting paper.
Are there other variations of origami?
In the past, there was only ceremonial origami and recreational origami. Recreational was fairly broad, so it has been broken down more since then. Here is a short list of just some other types of origami:
- Modular origami
- Action origami
- Pureland origami
- Origami tessellations
- Strip folding
- Teabag folding
Can you use any paper for kirigami?
You can technically use any paper for kirigami and don’t need a special kind. However, some projects are better suited to certain papers. Popup cards, for example, will need thicker paper like watercolor paper or even cardstock.
Projects that require a ton of folding are better suited to thinner paper. On the other hand, thin paper can also be weaker. Read and research different types of papers to select the best kind for your project.
While considered a derivative of origami, kirigami is a beautiful art form that can create gorgeous and dimensional art pieces.