The Language of Paper

Leanne Lai Hildebrand

Taiwanese Canadian

Migration is for the possibility of a better future. This possibility can often be an uncertainty for you and your family.

Change is facing your unknown self with courage, and not using the answers to create expectations for yourself.

Should we approach this new year with courage or with expectations?

I look forward to growing myself safely within the good.

Carrying my courage, I will look for good things along this journey.

When looking forward to the New Year, have we also fallen into the idea of “only one interpretation of good”?

Leanne used the good in her life to imagine the paper in her hands, and found that the real lesson happened when she had the courage to be torn open. Breaking through the rules, the unrestrained artist appeared so clearly within the Chigiri-e paintings!

Through her art, she shares her desire to become a free person.

Expect the unexpected within our creativity!


Washi 和紙 is the Japanese word for traditional paper made from a variety of renewable plant fibres. Wa means “Japan”, and shi means “paper”. The inner barks of three renewable shrubs indigenous to Japan—kozo (aka paper mulberry), mitsumata and gampi—are the primary fibres used in making washi. Other fibres such as hemp, abaca, wood pump, and rayon are sometimes used ofr paper or mixed in with other fibres. Japan has a long history of producing washi for everything from utilitarian tissues for cleaning swords to kamiko for making clothing, to surfaces for the creation of the finest calligraphy, paintings and prints. 

—The Japanese Paper Place


Chigiri-e (ちぎり絵) is a Japanese art form in which the primary technique uses coloured paper that is torn to create images, and may resemble a watercolour painting. The technique dates from the Heian period of Japanese history when it was often used in conjunction with calligraphy. Handmade paper is essential for the creation of chigiri-e images.


The paper of my story, when spread out flat, was torn by the long distance between myself and the life I once knew. In this process of tearing, many people stretched out their hands, doing their best to help me tape it back together.

But I chose to tear it, and myself, apart. In doing so, I experienced freedom and confidence like I had never felt before. In this distant view, I saw the wounds clearly and the clues to healing in the future!

These fibre threads are the mountains and valleys of my consciousness. The rips are Chigiri-e paintings, nourishing my freedom!

When I came to Canada, it was like the texture of every piece of paper was different, fresh and unique! But the nervous me was worried I would be lost in such diversity.

Before my life here, expectations had painted me as a certain type of person. I was a musician, and life was as clear as the piano keyboard: what should and shouldn’t be, the rights and the wrongs, the black and the white.

After starting my life here, I began to create the person I wanted to be. I am a Chigiri-e artist.

I tore down my carefully presented appearance, and destroyed the expectations placed upon me!

I glued myself back together with courage, and broke through my imagination!

I explored the depths of myself through the paper threads, and found the creativity within myself!

With the tearing apart and the coming back together, I redefined the meaning of beauty and freedom.


Leanne is an artist and musician from Taiwan. She started learning to use Japanese hand-dyed paper (washi) to make pictures about 21 years ago in a Japanese art form called Chigiri-e, studying under several masters in Taiwan. She has had several well-received exhibitions in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and the Vancouver area, including the Harmony Arts Festival Exhibition in 2018, 2019 and 2022 and an exhibition at VanDusen Botanical Garden in May 2022.

The Lantern City is grateful to be held on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). We acknowledge our privilege to be gathered on this land, and commit to work with and be respectful to the Indigenous peoples whose arts and stories inspire us to bring communities together.