MELAKA: A small pair of metallic scissors has been Ray Tan’s most reliable worktool for the past two decades. With it, he creates animals, buildings and ornaments out of paper, at his cosy store a stone’s throw away from Jonker Street here.
Tan, 45, discovered his passion for Chinese paper cutting while working at a shopping mall in his early 20s. He observed an artist cutting intricate designs on pieces of red paper for the Lunar New Year using scissors and small knives.
“When I saw it, it made me happy,” he told FMT. “I thought this would be something easy to do. Then I decided to try it myself.”
It was quite the assumption: as it turns out, basic paper cuts were easy to pick up, but the more intricate ones “were harder and took a lot of time”.
Tan, fondly known as “Long Ge” by the locals here, started selling his decorative paper-cut designs from a small stall on Jonker Street, alongside his other handiwork such as wood-carved shoes.
In 2006, he opened his store, Red Handicrafts. Inside, giant lanterns hang from the ceiling, while low tables and racks display his paper cutouts of Chinese zodiacs, postcards, brightly coloured ornaments, and knick-knacks.
Tan said it’s important to understand the history and culture surrounding paper-cut art. The form has origins in China dating as far back as the 2nd Century (101-200) when paper was invented, and prospered significantly during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912).
Paper cutting, he said, takes a great deal of patience and an eye for detail – but, most of all, it requires passion.
Each of his creations is not frivolously put together, but instead carefully designed to clearly and effectively represent Chinese culture.
“For instance, in the ‘prosperity’ design, there is a flower and butterfly, which represent a married couple.
“There are also goldfish, lotus seeds and lotus flowers, which symbolise that the couple will be blessed with children and grandchildren in the future.”
According to Tan, the art form is more commonly done using red paper as the colour represents harmony and prosperity.
That said, he also creates cutouts using multicoloured papers, the results of which are bright and eye-catching.
He cuts about 10 copies of the same design but often has trouble selling all of them. “This is why we have moved to selling postcards with my designs, which sell better among tourists,” he shared.
Tan has further found ways to incorporate his designs into more modern mediums. Using stencils, he prints them onto tote bags and T-shirts, which are again a draw for tourists; and he also makes them more colourful to entice younger visitors.
He hopes that by modernising his designs, paper cutting will appeal to the younger generation and inspire them to pick up the art form.
30c, Jalan Hang Kasturi,
Business hours: 10am-6pm daily
Contact: 019-374 1668