At first glance, this octopus seemed to be alive and breathing. A second look, however, paints a different picture —it’s a drawing rendered using fine-tipped pens — alas, that’s not accurate either. If you take a closer look, then you’ll see the octopus is actually a three-dimensional artwork that was handcrafted from a single sheet of paper.
The art of paper cutting is not for everyone, as it tends to be a more challenging affair than one may think. It requires unfaltering patience and most importantly, a steady hand. Japanese artist Masayo Fukudo —also known as “Kiriken Masayo”—has undoubtedly mastered this curious craft known as the art of kirie in Japan, or paper cutting, after having spent about 30 years studying this intricate practice.
Thus, it comes as no surprise to know Masayo, from Chiba Prefecture, Japan, has been hailed as one of the world’s greatest kirigami artists. Her creations not only dazzle viewers in Japan but also around the world. Her attention to detail is second to none and plays a major role in producing impressive paper-cut arts.
Basically, this art involves cutting out intricate shapes from a single sheet of paper, later placing it in front of a black background to reveal its form. While it may sound straightforward, it’s actually a whole lot more complicated.
However, it’s all fun and games for Masayo as she has enjoyed working with her hands ever since she was a child. Back then, like any other child, Masayo was an avid fan of cartoons. She would draw made-up characters inspired by her favorite manga characters. In fact, she still loves the work of Katsuhiro Otomo to this very day. Masayo always liked drawing, but it wasn’t until high school that she discovered her passion for paper cutouts.
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“I wanted to send a birthday card to a friend, and I thought that a simple square card would not be enough, so I cut out a heart-shaped piece of paper,” she told The Epoch Times. “I didn’t really feel that this was ‘paper cutting,’ but as I made message cards, I gradually became fascinated with paper cutting.”
When asked which among the works she considers as her masterpiece, Masayo revealed it was an incredibly intricate octopus. Rendered on a single sheet of white A2 paper with an artist’s scalpel, this paper-cut art has already made waves, leaving viewers deeply impressed with such an amazing piece of work.
While Masayo’s talent is extraordinary, it’s her attention to detail that captivates the audience and reveals the true skill of the artist. Thanks to Masayo’s dexterity, each bulging eye, and every undulating tentacle appears to lift straight off the page.
“The point I was particular about was the depth and three-dimensionality of the overlapping legs,” Masayo said, referring to the paper-cut octopus she made in 2018. “I drew it over and over, looked at it from a distance, drew it, and redrew it again. It took about two months from the rough sketch to completion.
Further elaborating on how she crafted this marvelous piece of art, Masayo added: “I express depth and a sense of three-dimensionality through the thickness and strength of the lines, for example, by leaving a lot of paper on the front part of the overlapping legs and making the lines on the back part of the legs extremely thin.”
When it comes to the final grandeur —to witness the magic of Masayo’s octopus—it was to contrast it against a black background to reveal the design or by lifting the delicate artwork so that the limbs move as though they were swimming in the ocean.
Masayo’s ultimate goal when crafting these pieces is to create “beautiful and delicate art, like a pencil drawing in a monochromatic world, drawn by cutting out a sheet of paper.”
Growing up near Kujukuri Beach in Chiba Prefecture, a famous surfing spot, Masayo has always been fascinated with marine life and its evolution. Her interest led her to learn more about sea creatures. Since then, she has been keen on sharing marine beauty with others through her work.
“Many of my works are of marine life, birds, and other creatures,” she explained.
Masayo takes her work very seriously. Thus when she is creating these realistic pieces of art, she said, she always pays attention to every bit of detail, no matter how small they are. She wants to make the viewer “feel the beauty and power of animals that do not have words.”
As incredible an artist, Masayo is, she too has an ‘artist block,’ a period where she is unsure of what to draw. At such times, she defaults to a variety of creatures—gazelles, sea turtles, whales, giraffes—testing out rough sketches, just to see what arouses her creativity.
The most important element of any new work, she emphasizes, is the draft; the better the draft, the better the finished piece.
“I draw the drafts on the back of the paper, so the finished product is reversed left to right. It is a very important process to create a rough draft while considering the reversal of the left and right sides and calculating the overall balance,” she explained.
The completion of each artwork depends on the size. A small piece usually takes just 30 minutes for the artist to complete whilst an A3-sized piece can take up to three months.
Masayo is aware of the challenges that could slow down the work. She reveals that she would always be extra careful when working with the paper, as it’s so fine, it can break during the process.
“In that case, I use liquid glue to hold it together,” she explained. “One of the most important techniques in paper cutting is to connect the pieces in such a way that you cannot tell the paper has been cut.”
Masayo’s impressive technical skill contributes to her excellent artwork and this has not gone unnoticed. In fact, her work is highly acclaimed by her fans, to the extent they address it as a “national treasure.”
She reflected, “I feel that people overseas appreciate the fact that ‘Made in Japan’ equals high quality. For me, art is ‘fun time,’ which includes both the time spent making art and the time spent looking at it.”
Masayo hopes to continue creating works that are realistic, and have a sense of presence and three-dimensionality. She also dreams of hosting a solo exhibition overseas one day, as she hopes to bring the three-dimensional joy of kirie to an international audience.
It’s truly remarkable what a single person can do if they put their heart and soul into it. Thanks to her continuous practice throughout the years, Masayo can now turn her visions into magic. Considering Masayo’s incredible talent, it is likely she is just getting started and we can anticipate many more masterful creations.