Hanji - One of Korea's Hidden Treasures

by Jan Coveney, 12/03/2012

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I found my passion in Korea and so could you…………..

My name is Jan Coveney and I’m an ex-expat who lived and worked in Korea for three and a half years.  During my stay, I was introduced to Hanji.  At first it was just a small group of us, who used to get together after work and make up some kits.  One member of the group was Korean so she would source out our supplies and translate whenever necessary, if she didn’t know what to do, she’d call her sister and quickly get the necessary information for us to continue with our projects.  I learned the hard way but my interest in this craft grew and grew and many projects later, I ended up having classes with a wonderful hanji artist in Pusan called ‘Matilda’. 

When I left Korea I took away with me this newfound craft called Hanji. Hanji is little known outside of Korea so when I needed to move away, but I still wanted to continue doing Hanji, the difficulties began.

Where do I get supplies? How do I get instructions for kits? Will the supplies in a different country be as good? I searched the internet but came up with no information in English. I searched online libraries and once again I came up with nothing in English. This has led me to document what I know and to pass that on to others………. I’m not saying there isn’t anything out there in English but just that I haven’t been able to find it.

What is Hanji?
In brief, it involves using cardboard and handmade mulberry paper to make different types of household goods from lamps to chests of drawers to boxes and small tables.

You use 3mm thick cardboard and glass or Perspex for lamps and cut out the shape; then you glue it together and cover with paper. This is then decorated with a paper of your choice.  Sometimes, I use my own photographs and print them onto the hanji paper and other times I use handmade mulberry paper to achieve my desired affects. You can also add cut out patterns and be creative in your choice of colours and designs.

In my experience I’ve found Hanji allows me to be extremely creative, it’s a craft that absorbs my mind in its construction and one, which is so full of possibilities, whilst being practical and beautiful.

I’ve set up a blog where I document my projects and try to help others who want to learn the craft.  It gives you some ideas of what you could do and some basic steps to get you started. To see my latest project see my blog entry titled, ‘Magnolias’.

I’m currently in the process of making worksheets in English for everything I make and cutting out patterns for each project as well.  If you want to know more about it please email me and I’d be happy to pass on any information that I may have. I’ve found websites where you can order paper and kits, but unfortunately you’ll still need a Korean friend to translate how to place the order unless you’ve been able to learn enough of the Korean language to get you through.

During your time in Korea you could visit the Andong Hanji factory  to see first hand how the paper is made and also visit the Exhibition centre where there are many wonderful items for sale or, have a lesson with the resident Hanji artist.

The Insadong district in Seoul seems to be the best place to get supplies easily. There are many shops selling different products and some also conduct classes in English These are mainly for tourists but it’s a good place to start then if you want to learn more find a Hanji artist who gives classes to the locals.

There are many ways to explore this craft whilst living in Korea and when you do leave, don’t give it up.  Source out your supplies and if you can get any information written in English on the techniques of doing this craft, I’d love to hear about them. You can write to me through my blog Hanji Happenings or directly through my email at jcoveney2@gmail.com.

If you want to do something special during your time in Korea, I suggest you take the opportunity to learn how to do this wonderful Korean craft.

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