New X-Acto #11 Blade Coated With…

Zirconium Nitride.

When was the last time the #11 blade made an improvement? I have been using the same one made of carbon or stainless steel since I was a kid. The Z series blade, as X-Acto named it, is probably the biggest change in a long time.

The Zirconium Nitride coating is on the grind and hone of the blade. According to X-Acto’s project engineer I spoke with, the coated blade is at least 4 times sharper and stays sharper minimum 6 times longer than a regular blade. Its performance has been consistent when tested against copy paper, cardboard, balsa wood, and many other materials.

Here’s a picture I took comparing the Z series blade with the regular variety. Because the coating is only on the grind and hone and not on the body of the blade, it allows the blade to bend but not snap if/when under too much pressure and therefore is safer to use.

Click to see larger image:

Blade comparison

#11 Blade comparison

Zirconium Nitride is a hard ceramic. When applied using the PVD process (physical vapor deposition) done in vacuum chamber, it is usually coated onto metal surfaces for heavy use and wear including drill bits and medical devices, according to Wikipedia. The new #11 blade uses the same process.

I did a quick test cutting a small pattern using the Z series blade the other day. I cut a small pattern on one sheet of rice paper with silk backing, the same variety I typically use for my works. I didn’t feel that it cut any sharper than the regular variety. I have not used it to cut thicker or harder materials. The new blade looks different and has a slight golden sheen. To give a fair assessment, I will have to use the Z series blade longer and make more cuts to test its longevity and sharpness.

As a cut paper artist using lots of blades, I am excited about a longer and sharper blade that could be more cost-effective and environmental friendly. The project engineer said that the Z series blade is more expensive (guessing 20-30%) than the regular variety. It will launch in North America in September, 2011.


My Cut Paper Works on Huffington Post

A slide show of 13 images of my cut paper works is featured on Huffington Post today in the Arts section.

For those of you who know my works, I created the “Tsunami” and “Power Plant” series in 2008-2009. In that two years, the massive earthquake in China occurred, the US government approved off-shore drilling, and the security and safety of the nuclear plants across the country and the world were questioned.

Unfortunately, some of these crisis are confronting the people of Japan and their beautiful country. My thoughts are with them everyday.


My cut paper works on Huffington Post, April 7, 2011

Questions from Charles Clary, Artist, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Question 1. What is it about paper that drew you to the material as a medium instead of a matrix?

Chinese invented paper so culturally there is a sense of intimacy, significance, and legitimacy for me to work with it. Specifically, the Chinese rice paper that I use to make paper cutouts with was the first art material I knew as a young girl practicing calligraphy and landscape painting. I love the many great qualities in rice paper: soft, tissue-thin, subtly textured, absorbent, natural, acid-free, long lasting, and sustainable. Paper, to me, is never a mundane or utilitarian material for printing information.

Question 2. With the advancement of technology, it has become easier to achieve delicate detail cuttings using laser cutters and other mechanical means. Do you employ any technological tools or do you do all your cuttings by hand? Why or why not?

When I began making paper cutouts in 2005, I decided that digital tools should be an integral component in my creative process because of my education and interest in digital media. I want my work to involve both technology and handcraftsmanship. But I only use the computer to make templates – a visual and positioning guide – for the cutouts. To me, the laborious, hand cut process is the best part. There is something very honest and dignified to create with your hands and to push the limits of your mind and body. To replace it with mechanical tools, it would mean to miss the innate desire to connect myself with humanity.

Question 3. How did your process develop in regards to using paper as your primary media and the creation of your work?

I am very inquisitive and have vast interests and training in many art forms. Before paper cutting, I worked with Chinese calligraphy and landscape painting, drawing and painting, and various digital media. My initial attraction to using paper as a primary medium is because of the intimacy I just mentioned. To sustain my career as an artist for the long haul, I chose to work with paper for it does not necessarily require expensive equipment and facilities.

As far as how I began cutting paper, it dated back to 2004 when I returned to Hong Kong and my father gave me his small collection of paper cuttings. I knew about Chinese paper cutting all my life but at that time I immediately wondered if I was capable of making something as intricate and beautiful. When creating the first paper cutout, I realized that it really suits my personality, strengths, and sense of aesthetics. And the potential and possibilities to contemporize it are endless. Most importantly, in paper cutting I can integrate nearly all my skills in other art forms. And from each art form, I can also incorporate the most effective and enjoyable aspects into my creative process. I am continually amazed by how inclusive and forward thinking paper cutting can be.

Like many artists, I start with drawing, an activity I love and find most immediate and efficient in capturing ideas. Then I create templates on the computer, making photographic/vector composites that afford my highly elaborate and layered narratives. I print out the digital templates and use them as visual and positioning guides for the final paper cutouts. The last process is to spend the incalculable, laborious hours to hand cut each image. With so much preparation up to the hand cutting, I allow myself to be spontaneous and often cut on the fly and improvise. It makes my studio time challenging and exciting. This three-fold process is a total workout of the spiritual mind, logical brain, and physical body.

Question 4. Being a paper artist myself, I find that the long laborious process to create my work, is somewhat meditative and self-gratifying, as far as the end product is concerned.  Do you feel the same in regards to your personal process? Why or why not?

I feel the spirituality in the hand cutting process. I am not good at meditation but perhaps reaching the creative zone of total concentration is similar to a successful meditative state when one is just “being.” The moment when nothing matters more than making the line I am cutting works. I absolutely am in love with the sensation when the razor sharp X-acto knife blade slices the paper open and seeing the beautiful, clean line that it produces. The hand cut process, too, is very gratifying because it is honest, simple, instinctive, and I am the only person responsible for it. I feel completely human and humbled after a long day of cutting, when I come face to face with the mental exhaustion and bodily aches and pain.

Question 5. What are your thoughts on the current state of paper art and how do you think it will advance in the coming years?

Works on paper have been around for a long time but gained a great deal of popularity in the mainstream art world in recent years. Cut paper being a part of it means the artists are getting more attention and exposure.

The current state of cut paper art is blossoming, individualized, and progressive. There has been a great deal and increasing interest in the medium in the art world and on the Internet. I am not surprised because cut paper art is cross-disciplined, multicultural, rich in content, and highly diverse in representations.

It’s difficult to predict how cut paper art will advance. But because of the critical and commercial success of several cut paper artists, more young artists will likely consider to take on cut paper art while they are in school. So I think these artists and art schools will help advancing cut paper art in the near future, solidifying its place in the mainstream art world.

But the million dollar question is whether paper art will have lasting power. Many years ago people already began to say one day there would be no need for paper and the paperless direction is where we are heading. It will be really interesting to see the destiny of (cut) paper art when paper is no longer an intimate, familiar material.

“Atomic Jellyfish” on the Cover of L’art de la decoupe

My paper cutout, “Atomic Jellyfish,” is featured in and on the cover of L’art de la decoupe (The Art of Paper Cutting) by Jean-Charles Trebbi. The 160-page book, written in French, is published by Editions Alternatives in Paris, France.

Trebbi wrote about the history and traditions of both Eastern and Western paper cutting, with a focus on the contemporary expressions of the art form by artists around the world.

An architect and designer, Trebbi connects paper cutting with architecture, design, paper folding, sculpture, and others.

"Atomic Jellyfish" on the cover of L'art de la decoupe

10 Things You Might Not Know About Traditional Chinese Paper Cutting

  1. It has been around for thousands of years as a generational folk art of women. Village women of grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and grand daughters made paper cutouts after a day’s housework to pass time, bond, or earn extra income.
  2. It is a regional craft and paper cutouts can look dramatically different from town to town, and province to province.
  3. The paper is often folded at least once over to produce repeated patterns before cutting.
  4. Because paper cutting are used for festivities and celebrations, the artists tend to choose what are considered the most auspicious, lucky colors such as red and gold.
  5. There are two schools of cutting artists using either scissors (household/sewing) or knives (specially made). They do not always appreciate the cutting method that they do not use themselves.
  6. Paper cutouts were almost never framed in the past. People glued them to windows, doors, and walls and then discarded them after the occasions.
  7. Some paper cutting masters do not draw or use templates and just cut from the mind.
  8. Paper cutting templates were used for lanterns, embroidery, textiles, and many more.
  9. There are four greatest Chinese inventions, paper is one of them (along with compass, gun powder, and wood block print). The invention of paper clearly made paper cutting possible.
  10. Before the invention of paper, craftsmen were cutting leather, and silver and gold foil, creating artworks similar to paper cutouts.

Practice Makes the Master

When I learned German in college, the very first principle my teacher taught was: Übung macht den Meister, i.e., Practice makes the master.

As I later realized, this principle applies to almost everything else, especially cutting paper.

When I made “The Pebbles Think They’re Buddha,” I had to do what I try to avoid at all cause – re-cut. The problem is not the pebbles but the up side down shadow of the buddha. When a silhouette is seen up side down, it is more difficult for the eyes to recognize it right away unless it is very clear and distinct.

The buddha shadow on the left is too vague and the right is much better, although I did not like how thick the neck looked. Click to see larger image.

Buddha shadow tests

Buddha shadow tests

So the third time’s a charm, the final version (click to see larger image):

The Pebbles Think They're Buddha

The Pebbles Think They're Buddha, rice paper cutout on silk, 12.25x12.25", 2010

What the Monarch Remembers II

Upper wings: Plane riders on burning snow mountains

Lower wings: Windmill blowing cars in the sky

What the Monarch Remembers II, rice paper cutout, 4.75x3.20", 2010