Discover the Japanese art form chigiri-e at White Dog Gallery

Traditional Japanese art form uses delicate paper to create colourful images resembling watercolour painting

Sea to Sky artist Roxsanne Tiernan will introduce Whistlerites to the age-old traditional Japanese artform of chigiri-e during a workshop this Sunday (April 7) at the White Dog Studio Gallery.

"Basically, chigiri-e is making pictures using paper. Specifically, you need to use washi paper to do what I call 'true' chigiri-e," said Tiernan. "Most people will walk into a gallery and look at (chigiri-e) and think it's a watercolour or an oil (painting), if it has really sharp edges."

Dating back over a thousand years to Japan's Heian, chigiri-e involves tearing, folding and gluing coloured paper to create vivid realistic images like landscapes, or more abstract forms.

The key for the chigiri-e artist is finding the correct paper to use, said Tiernan, who prefers the traditional Japanese washi paper made from the mulberry tree.

"The sheets are about half the thickness of a Kleenex," she said. "Because it's from the mulberry tree, it handles more like a silk, so it's stronger than you'd think. You think about some brands of tissue you could sneeze right through, but this stuff you can handle fairly well."

Typically a brush is used to outline the image before pulling the paper apart or cutting it with scissors to get the desired shape. Chigiri-e requires artists to work from the back to the front, layering the piece as they go.

"You need to have an idea of what you want to do beforehand, otherwise you're going to make it more abstract," Tiernan said.

Tiernan, an accomplished artist in her own right with her work having appeared in over 50 exhibitions all over the world, discovered chigiri-e after a Japanese friend suggested she enroll in a housewife's workshop while she was living in Tokyo in 1984.

"They gave you a pattern and the right colour of paper, some water and glue. I went there and in what should have taken an hour and a half or two hours, I finished in about 20 minutes and wanted to do something else; just chomping at the bit," she said.

After the class, the quick study asker her instructor in broken Japanese where to find washi paper, so she could practice chigiri-e on her own. The teacher told her to come back the following week, but she was ready to create chigiri-e on her own.

"I thought 'I'm not coming back next week, this is too slow,'" she said.

After six weeks of searching, Tiernan finally found the washi paper she needed, and she's been working in the delicate art form ever since.

Tiernan thinks Sunday's workshop will offer a little something to everyone, no matter their experience level.

"Anybody who tries this workshop will come out with a different idea of what paper's good for," she said. "If they're an artist, they'll be able to apply their art skills in composition and so on (Chigiri-e) takes you towards mixed media and lets you go as far as your skills will take you."

While all necessary materials will be provided, Tiernan recommends participants to bring any old brushes, empty yogurt containers, watercolour paper or quality tissue paper they may have.

The workshop runs Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the White Dog Studio Gallery in Function Junction. The cost is $50.

Visit for more information, or call the gallery at 604-932-2205 to register.

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