Thursday, June 23, 2016

the misanthropic fox

As soon as the Etegami workshop was over for the day, and I was the only one left in the house, a fox strolled along the top of the fence just outside my studio window. #Atsuta series. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

sand dollar etegami

the big sand dollars are as big as my hand with my fingers spread out
I found these sand dollars at a souvenir shop on an island off America's east coast more than twenty-five years ago. That was before I became bitten by the etegami bug, and at the time, I didn't really know what I wanted them for. But when they reappeared during a recent decluttering frenzy, it was as plain as plain can be that they (especially the huge ones) were canvases begging to be painted on. Part of me resisted adding something to an already exquisite product of nature, but I hoped that etegami-style embellishment would suit this particular canvas-- if applied with a light hand.

The porosity of the shell made it a challenging surface for my etegami paints, but the results did not disappoint me. 

the results did not disappoint me
I made the interesting discovery that none of my Hokkaido-based etegami colleagues had ever seen or heard of a sand dollar before. They are related to the spherical sea urchins, a lip-smacking delicacy that Hokkaido has in abundance, but these flat relatives are apparently unknown in northern Japan. 

So, we searched our nearest seashore for other shells that might work as etegami canvases, and ended up collecting armloads of all kinds of sea shells (mostly chipped or broken), smooth and not-so-smooth stones, and some interesting driftwood. Scallop shells look the most promising, to tell the truth-- big enough to paint on, and flat enough to slip into an envelope. Scallops also happen to be one of the most popular and plentiful products of Hokkaido's sea-farming industry, so there is no shortage of scallop shells. I think I'll ask my local fish market to save me some, and see where that leads. Stay tuned!

at my studio in Atsuta on the Japan Sea coast

Monday, June 13, 2016

busy on the inside

I remember a little boy who lay on his bed staring at the ceiling for hours and hours of each day, cheerfully deaf to threats and pleas from his frustrated mother who felt he should be doing his chores, his homework, or getting exercise outside. Fortunately, he had a wise older sister who assured their mother that staring at the ceiling was important for developing a creative mind. So the mother gave up her threats (for the most part).

The boy eventually grew up and left home. Facing numerous crises, both physical and mental, he showed remarkable resilience, and finally one day he received that piece of paper that opened the door to the next stage of his dream to be what he had wanted to be ever since he was three years old: A scientist. Actually, he grew up to be a physicist who loves to make art. His mother has a great respect for ceiling-gazing now, and looks forward to teaching that skill to her grandchildren... if she ever has any. 

I  made this etegami to celebrate the boy's doctoral hooding ceremony. Except that his version has a diploma in it. (name hidden for his privacy). Prints of the non-diploma version can be ordered from my RedBubble shop.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

children's day once again

Kodomo no hi (Children's Day festival) is celebrated in Japan each year on May 5. There are many, many traditions associated with this holiday, the most popular probably being the colorful and picturesque koinobori (carp-shaped windsocks). These magnificent windsocks are flown from flag poles in backyards and fields, or ropes stretched across rivers, to symbolize the strength and bravery of carps swimming against the current.  I can't count how many versions of koinobori I have painted over the decades, and they continue to fascinate me as a subject for etegami.

This year, however, I recycled an old etegami I had painted of kashiwa mochi, a confection traditionally associated with this holiday. Kashiwa mochi are dumplings made of pounded rice, stuffed with sweet bean paste and wrapped in an oak leaf.  In Japan, oak trees are seen as a symbol of the prosperity of one’s descendants. The leaves are not edible, but they transfer a nice earthy fragrance to the mochi.

When I say I recycled one of my old etegami, I mean that I cut up this old, slightly faded etegami, then glued a part of it to a card I had cut out of a shopping bag from a famous traditional Japanese sweets shop. I had been saving the bag for just such a purpose.

The words, which I added with a white gel pen, translate roughly to "While my children go forth into the world and battle dragons, I will stay at home and eat kashiwa mochi." I tried, at one level, to express my pride in my children, and on another level, my relief in knowing that my part in preparing them for the world was mostly successful. I can relax now and enjoy my tea and dumplings.

Monday, April 25, 2016

fun with frames

Usually I approve of the simplest of frames for displaying etegami. Paper board covered in washi, with elastic stretched across the four corners to hold the etegami in place. Or maybe a very simple woven bamboo frame (flattish bamboo baskets make great etegami frames).

But sometimes I decorate store-bought wood frames, like the one in the photo at the top, especially when I have a specific etegami in mind. All I did was draw cat paws on the white frame with a permanent black marker. Then I recycled an old-ish but well-loved cat etegami to fit the frame's small-ish 9cm x 9cm dimensions.

Other times, I decorate with a season or mood in mind, trusting that the resulting frames will work with etegami that I have yet to create. I decorated the two box frames in the second photo by affixing shapes cut from hand-dyed washi using store-bought hole punchers.

Do you make original frames to go with your original art? If so, maybe you wouldn't mind sharing some of your favorite techniques and materials with me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

flower salad

I try to get the Etegami Fun Club involved in the Flower City Fukushima Etegami Contest every year. We've produced at least two award-winners so far, although I do recognize that the Japanese judges probably give our entries special consideration because of the novelty of submissions from "foreign lands."

But the Etegami Fun Club is much larger now than it was a few years ago, and this year, members from Italy, France, Canada, the US, Poland, Belarus, (and more) came up with an unprecedented number of submissions. So many, in fact, that submissions from foreigners may soon become so blasé that it will be much more difficult to impress the judges. That, of course, is a good thing. It's further proof that years of effort to spread interest in and passion about the art of etegami has produced results.

The two etegami shown here are from my on-going Flower Salad series. The one at the top is my submission to this year's Flower City Fukushima call. It says "Let's eat flower salad and become beautiful." In Japanese, the word for "beautiful" (kirei) can also mean "clean, pure, pristine" much like the English word when used in a sentence like "What a beautiful day it is!" It is more than physical beauty; it can refer to the spirit or character and, most definitely, the heart. 

Monday, April 11, 2016


One of our Etegami Fun Club members, Kasia from Poland, suggested mailboxes (for sending letters) and letter boxes (for receiving letters) as our group theme for April. What immediately came to my mind was a collage series I did years years and years ago when I was still active in the international mailart community. I had combined vintage Japanese stamps with photos of the kind of mailbox that was common in Japan when I was a child. 

I thought of submitting one of the original series, but when I looked through my digital records, they felt much too cluttered for my current tastes. So I did a similar one using fewer postage stamps, hand-written words, and a properly "wiggly" hand-painted mailbox. I couldn't motivate myself to paint the postage stamps, as I have plenty of real used stamps that I'm always looking for a way to use in my art. 

Speaking of postage stamp art, I am a big fan of Jackie Long's "Stamp People" series and hope to do something like that with Japanese stamps one of these days.  I am the lucky recipient of several of Jacki's collage cards.

By the way, I did today's etegami collage in my "Life Between Cultures" etegami journal so that I could also post it on the Artist's Journal Workshop group page on Facebook.