Winter 2000: Paper Kites

2000 Winter Edition, Volume 8, No. 1

Coming Full Circle in Contemporary Kite Making
by Scott Skinner, Chairman The Drachen Foundation

I became fascinated with kites 25 years ago, when, as an Air Force pilot I found them to be sophisticated flying objects and also an escape from the rules and regulations of "real flying".

As I became more interested, I learned of kites' ties to the history of aviation as well as their central role in many Asian cultures.

Since my first trip to Japan in 1989, the diverse kites found throughout Japan have been my creative focus, yet it is only in the past three years that I have seriously explored them using their traditional materials, paper and bamboo. I've been building kites for almost twenty years and have only recently turned to the world of paper for the raw material in my creations.

Contemporary kite makers in Europe and the United States use a variety of modern materials such as ripstop nylon, polyester, taffeta, and plastic laminates like OrconTM or even oil-based "paper", tyvekTM. I used ripstop nylon exclusively, for fifteen years before turning to paper a little over three years ago. The nature of ripstop's very limited color palette, as well as influences of American antique quilts, led me to my current artistic state; that is, to use one or two colors only, and emphasize light and shadow in the changing environment of the sky.

Needless to say, upon turning to Japanese papers for kite making, I found an almost unlimited palette of color, as well as an endless supply of textures, weights, and patterns. I've continued my emphasis upon patterns with high contrast, but have found that the subtle differences in paper colors lead to fantastic possibilities in my seemingly simple kites. Because my kites are pieced together patchwork style. I also needed a specific tool for joining pieces and when I found 2mm and 3mm wide, double-sided tape from Japan it was clear sailing.

In India, complex pieced designs in paper are accomplished quickly and efficiently by kite makers with a lifetime of skill, using paste, their fingers, and an amazing amount of dexterity. Since I am much more attuned to the "result now" school of kite making, the double-sided tape was the answer, easy to apply, very accurate in a straight line, and highly adhesive.