Red Repels Demons! Design Your Own Red Packet

It was 2014. A huge family event was taking place, all of my to-be-in-laws were gathered together. Noodles were being happily tossed and relations chatted away. These little envelopes, ang paos, were being handed around but I couldn’t understand how I was supposed to accept them. In fact, I found it difficult to accept them all the way up until recently. So what changed?

First of all I discovered how I fit in the picture. I’m woven in, I can’t just receive ang bao’s I have to pass them on too. The ang bao is supposed to be symbolic of a blessing or well wish and it would be discourteous and rude not to pass them on. But where do these ang baos come from?

In popular stories the colour red, loud noises (think of drums and the dragon dance), and coin shaped charms are revealed to offer protection from an evil spirit that lived in the sea or mountains. He was known as Nian, 年兽, and he typically terrorised villages, most famously Peach Village. This sets a mythical origin for the gifting of money packaged in red.

That’s bad news because if we have to start at a myth, then the evolution of the ang pao to what it is today cannot be clear.

The connection between money and blessings, seems to have origins in early China, likely predating the time of the Three Kingdoms (220C.E). Eminent officials and leaders had began producing coins with blessings on, or coin shaped charms, that have survived until today (primaltrek). The most obvious continuation of this idea is the string of replica coins and charms that are continually for sale for the purposes of fengshui. Then as now, carrying these charms is believed to offer protection, luck, or fortune, amongst other things. Given the symbolism of the colour red, passing a red bag of such positively charged coins to a loved one or a neighbour would have been an extra compassionate gesture.

祥庆荣华 — happiness and celebration, prosperity and high position

Coins, as a form of money, represent power.  Coin-shaped charms are, therefore, a very compact form of power.primaltrek

Today, the ang pao remains a symbol of well wishing and blessing and its contents echo that intention wherever they are distributed; at WeddingsTea Ceremonies, the Lunar New Year, in exchange for a service like Lion Dancing, a bribe, or a baby’s first month celebration. However, ideas, particularly those disconnected from an original purpose or belief, are quick to change. Mystical coin charms are still occasionally found in effigy, printed on ang paos, but it’s rare. Ang pao’s are more often emblazoned with corporate logos instead of blessings and they do not even need to be red.

After using Italic&Bold’s special themed design of red packet, we wanted to create ang paos of our own. First we trawled the internet for templates. This is a good way to start because then you have some print ready layouts and the measurements are all predefined for you. There are some already available online, see below examples, but usually you can just inquire at a printers directly.

Easitech — Singapore (Ai.)

e-print — Hong Kong (Ai. Cdr.)

The Copy Boy — Singapore (Ai.)

Print100 — Hong Kong (Ai. Cdr. Psd.)

Presuming you have the correct software, you can quickly adapt the colours and image to suit your taste. Do you remember that coat of arms we were talking about using? Well that ended up emblazoned on our red packets. We didn’t specify that all the specs on our ang bao were supposed to be in gold foil so we got the CMYK version of gold instead. My bad.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about printing techniques but just know that you should be able to print in “foil” if you have marked a colour or layer for printing in a shiny colour. There is also hot stamping if you want a raised image but honestly, what does this add?

We scanned around in Singapore for a good price and almost went with the company Print City. But in the end we went with a printer in China for cost reasons. Whether printing in Singapore or abroad, ask about gluing, you don’t want 500 unglued and unfolded red packets to deal with.

Prepare to print in advance of your event as designing might take a week and printing can take anywhere from 3 days to three weeks depending on where you’re sourcing the print from.

Extra note: As a teacher, these ang baos were perfect for giving a token gift to my students. We used The Natural Confectionary Co. chews for most packets and YumEarth organic pops for the kids that don’t eat meat or pork. See below.

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Artist Series: Julian Vinet

Julien Vinet lives and works in Valletta, he is a cartoonist, graphic designer, and painter. Raised in France, then 7 years in Japan, Julien’s past experiences are quite unaccustomed to the Maltese way of life. Still, interviewing an artist is always unpredictable, you are not to know what state of mind they will be in. I managed to speak to Julien, whilst he occupied something approaching a near perfect state of mind.

As soon as I arrived at his apartment I realised two things. The first that he was a modest man and second that he truly had great light for painting in his studio. Light is one of those things Julien gets particular about, without good light his art is affected, he spent over three months hunting this place down and it is easy to see why. Light floods through the whole apartment and his studio, whilst small, is washed up and illuminated by the suns glow. He is pleased about this for obvious reasons.

Oil Pastel

Julien showed me his roof terrace. A grand view of the harbour and the three cities. Having such a beautiful landscape usually prompts people to paint and draw it but noticeably Vinet hasn’t. I asked him why he wouldn’t paint such a scene, he shrugged of the idea as if it weren’t worth a moments thought and he told me that a painting is no replacement for the real thing. At any rate, it was decided that the interview should take place on his terrace. The interview focused on Vinet’s experiences, how his style has been shaped and how does he now respond to the social situations that are around him.

After the interview a few things began to happen, we went to a painting exhibition by a local artist, it was a collection of photo-real landscapes of Malta. I imagine that many contemporary artists would feel the same, he was distraught and dismayed. I didn’t need to ask why, whilst the painter we saw was clearly very talented, he was very much the equivalent of a Japanese craftsman for Vinet. His statement that the Japanese don’t have artists, they only have craftsmen, had a parallel running in Malta.

Having worked with narrative and figurative work himself that exhibition was no enigma to him, he knew exactly what it was that he was looking at and he didn’t like it. Perhaps this is expressed in his own work that has began to turn towards the abstract. Vinet talks about the, “few who have the ability to do it”, and he means those who can touch people’s souls with their art. “The only point [of art] is to touch people.” This is said in reference almost exclusively to abstract and expressionist painters, but I feel that in spite of the theme of our conversation, he has much broader appreciation. This leads him further, artwork that inspires feeling is the most effective, to “work without meaning” to create emotion or empathy, this what he works for. He has great admiration for painters who strove to such ends.

Vinet’s opinion on Malta’s art scene is mixed, I can tell this from the mixed arguments that he poses in criticism and then in defence of it. Such a stance is not new though, I have seen a number of people here with the same mixed view. Some things are great here, other things are just bad. Still, Vinet has aspirations to change the way that things are done, he has ideas and believes in the greater ability of the Maltese people to capacitate for such a change.

Vinet has been living in Malta for one and a half years and is typically exhibiting abroad due to the higher interest and appreciation that he gets. It is likely that an exhibition will take place in Malta but competition for his work from mainland Europe will limit the chances of a solo exhibition taking place soon. Still, we must see what the future will bring.