Have you been introduced to the colorful, textural, sticky goodness known as washi tape?
It’s taking the craft world by storm and I love to use it to decorate boxes and envelopes, but what do I really know about it? Turns out the word “washi” comes from wa for “Japanese” and shi for “paper,” and it’s used to describe paper made by hand in the traditional Japanese manner. Although the tape isn’t always made outright from washi, the washi-like patterns and texture are where it gets its name.
Washi tape is typically made from natural fibers, such as bamboo or hemp, but most commonly from the bark of trees that are native to Japan—the mulberry, the mitsumata shrub, or the gampi tree. The beauty of the pulp from these sources is that it has no grain, making the tape easy to manipulate and tear. The whole washi tape phenomenon started in 2006 when a group of artists approached a Japanese masking tape manufacturer and presented them with a book of art they had created using the company’s industrial masking tapes. The artists requested that the company manufacture colorful masking tapes for artists, and washi tape was born.
In addition to being used as an art supply for things like business cards, serving trays, lampshades, nail art, and gift wrap, some artists, like Nasa Funahara, are taking it a step further by using washi tape as paint to recreate masterpieces by famous artists like Van Gogh and Verneer.
An art student at Musashino Art University in Japan, Nasa takes about a week to build her paintings by layering different washi tapes together. Her pieces mimic the original in basic composition, but the real magic lies in looking at them up close, where the vast array of color and texture are revealed. And in Sacramento, California, there’s an art collaborative that creates large-scale interactive art installations out of washi tape, a whole “washi” movement known as Tapigami.
So next time you see a coordinated pack of washi tape in the checkout line in colors and textures that make you giddy, go ahead and grab it. Its versatility is literally endless.