Crafting on the Road: Learning how to make traditional Lao Buddhist temple stencils

Crafting in Laos

In the past few years I’ve been in and out of many, many temples and can’t help but be mesmerized by the stunning artwork covering the inner and outer walls of each and every one. Every temple, even ones that are only one block away from each other, have a different look to them and I’ve taken to photographing the beautiful art at each one I visit. I hope to use my large collection of temple art pictures as inspiration for something one day.

stencil makingI had always wondered how the artwork was made and how long it took, so I was ecstatic to discover Yensabai Book & Art  in Luang Prabang, Laos that offers traditional stencil making classes. For 120,000 Kip (15 USD) we were taught how to properly cut the stencils out of handmade paper with straight and curved chisels on a plank of wood. Over a span of two hours Dave and I hammered away while occasionally sipping on Lao green tea (for me) and Lao coffee (for Dave). It was a very cathartic experience and we not only walked away with a better understanding of how much work goes into decorating a Buddhist Temple, but also two pieces of awesome art.

stencil tools and materials

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cutting my stencil

our finished stencils

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Rice Glue and Paper Lotus Lanterns Tutorial

Korean paper lotus lantern and rice glue

I’m a craft-o-holic. While traveling I am usually only able to craft in my journal, but when I am settled down somewhere I am constantly making stuff. Especially paper things. I love it. There’s something so relaxing and satisfying about making something with your hands.

When we were at the Lotus Lantern Festival a couple weeks ago, we stumbled across a tent where you could make your own paper lotus lantern. I jumped at the opportunity of an impromptu craft session with paper on the sidewalk in Korea. For those of you curious about the significance of the lotus lanterns, here’s an explanation I found on Visit Korea:

According to Buddhist belief, the lighting of a lotus-shaped lantern symbolizes a devotion to performing good deeds and lighting up the dark parts of the world that are filled with agony. The lantern-lighting practice was developed throughout the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties and has been preserved through public demonstrations such as the lotus lantern service (a Buddhist memorial service held nationwide) and the lotus lantern parade.

paper lotus lantern crafts on the streets of SeoulWhile we were making our lanterns, I noticed that the glue we were using was very gelatinous and glutinous. I thought it might be made from rice, and sure enough, it was! This probably doesn’t seem like something to get excited about, but I really like arts and crafts. My friends made fun of me for my serious interest in the glue and for the fact that I asked the lovely man who was helping us how to make it, but I really had to know. Isn’t the idea of an easy to make, non-toxic, and cheap glue for paper crafts awesome!?! All you need is a little left over rice and water. I imagine it would be a fabulous glue to use with kids, there’s always that one kid who wants to know what glue tastes like.

This last weekend I tried my hand at making rice glue and to see how well my own concoction turned out I made a lotus lantern from materials laying around the house. Read more