One of the things Japanese artists and crafters do best is take the beauty of traditional Japanese arts and modernize them.

This is made easier by the fact that so many traditional Japanese arts already had an ultra-modern geometric style to begin with.

For example, the ancient Seikaiha pattern, used in kimono dying for nearly a thousand years.   The pattern was originally used on ancient Chinese maps to signify the ocean, and turned up as a Japanese textile pattern on a Haniwa figure from the 4th century!  Yet, what could be more modern?

I take inspiration from this old-new blend in my Paper Demon jewelry.

But sometimes I like to feature the work of Japanese crafters in my jewelry.  A few years ago, on a supply buying visit to Japan, I discovered the jewelry supply boutique Beads Shop J4.  The artists behind this shop are dedicated to bringing traditional Japanese beauty into modern accessory supplies.  I love them!  They don’t sell online (that is to say, they do sell online but they don’t ship overseas!), so I visit their shop in the Aasakusabashi Beads District of Tokyo as often as I can.

The technique that these artists developed is to encase vintage kimono and yukata fabric in acrylic and cut and seal the acrylic in interestingly shaped beads.  I find these completely entrancing.

There are endless possibilities for how to use these beads.  So far, I’ve only used them in some really awesome earrings!

Find them all at Paper Demon Jewelry!

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Miyako in yukata

It’s graduation season and tomorrow my daughter Miyako graduates from 5th grade!  I’m so proud of her, but sad that she’ll be saying goodbye to her wonderful Japanese immersion elementary school 😦

The kids at the immersion school wear yukata (cotton summer kimono) for graduation!  Luckily, we have a few lovely yukata and obi (sashes) that I’ve been picking up over the years in Japan, and now Miyako is big enough to wear one.   It took three tries to get all the parts on right!  Underneath that obi are 4 (four) layers of specialized waist wraps that you have to use to get the “right” kimono sillhouette.   I can’t believe how lovely she looks.

After we got it all on, we decided it just needed something ‘extra’.  It needed that little Paper Demon touch.  So, we decided to design and create an obi ornament.  Traditionally Japanese people wore netsuke ornaments of ivory hanging from the sashes of their kimonos.  Japanese girls today wear all kinds of sweet, original little doo-dads when they go out in yukata for summer festivals.

After much discussion, and debating the merits of tiny koi fish, sakura flowers, and bunnies, we finally settled on these cube shaped acrylic beads that have yukata fabric encased inside them.   I got them last summer at a very special tiny specialty shop in the ancient city of Kamakura, courtesy of a local friend who had scouted out the store for me ahead of time (thanks Yuki!)  I like to make earrings out of these, but I have to admit, they look awfully good as what they were made for—-yukata ornaments.  Maybe I’ll try adapting the idea in a pin!   What do you think? Would you wear it?

Hello everyone.  Welcome to Paper Demon, my blog about Japan-inspired wearable art.  I am a jewelry artist who works mostly in Japanese traditional handmade mulberry paper, or “washi.”    My jewelry and art are all about  transforming the large sheets of washi that I get from papermakers in Japan,  into tiny jewels that sparkle and gleam and flutter on the body.

Origami Leaf Earrings

I’ve been collecting Japanese washi and working with washi since my first trip to Japan in 1985, when I lived in a small town that was blessed with an old and esteemed washi shop, WashiYakata Shimayu.  It was run by a man and wife who were accomplished paper artists.  They were kind and generous enough to share their love of washi and their art with the young curious foreigner who lurked endlessly at their shop.   There is nothing like a real, old-fashioned washi shop. The mind-blowing colors, the feel–smooth, rough, knobby, fibrous, silk-like, tissuey–of the different kinds of washi, and above all, the indescribable smell… these fascinated me then and fascinate me still.

Washi Pendants

I first learned to make traditional three-dimensional paper dolls, with their layers upon layers of washi kimono, their flamboyant obi, and their exotic hairstyles.

One of my earliest washi creations, from 1986

But now, I want to share the appeal of washi with a wider world. I want to make its extraordinary colors and tantalizing patterns, that somehow mysteriously combine the ancient with the ultra-modern, wearable in an easy and accessible way.

By experimenting with various weights of paper and acrylic sealer, I found a way to transform paper into lasting, durable jewelry.

I’ll soon be posting photos of my work–origami earrings in the shape of cranes, flowers, leaves, and butterflies, and glass and paper pendants.  All accented with swarovski crystal and pearls.

I also do artwork–three dimensional mounted origami masks based on traditional Japanese masks from theater and folklore–that are mounted in shadow boxes or Japanese mounting boards.

Lion Dance Mask

What I love most is bringing a modern aesthetic to this most traditional of materials.  I find the colors that work best with current trends–right now, for example, browns and aquas, purples and lime greens–and highlight the highly stylized, geometric, often assymetrical patterns of washi, to create jewelry that instantly attracts the eye.

Geometric patterns in washi jewelry

I look forward to sharing my love of washi and my different experiments in washi jewelry and art with all of you.  I also look forward to sharing about my annual trips to Japan and excursions to the temple flea markets and antique shows there.   Stay tuned! Thanks for reading.