Thursday, April 16, 2015

a world of dew

You can't always tell from the results, but words are the part of my etegami that matter to me the most. I finally added words to two of the chicken etegami I posted a few days ago.

I quote Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) in the etegami on the left. His life was full of severe poverty and great physical hardship, yet his haiku reveals an attachment to the world in spite of its cruelties. He wrote this particular haiku after his baby daughter died of smallpox. I took the liberty of adding a commentary to bind the haiku to my image. But I think Issa, who had a wonderful sense of humor, would have approved.

In regard to the second card, I have to say that the saying "working for chicken feed" has always amused me, all the more because it accurately describes huge blocks of my own life. This combination of words and images is intended for some very special people in my life.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

wishes and prayers and paper cranes

Of the dozens and dozens of origami (the Japanese art of paper folding) models I used to amuse myself with as a child, the only one I make time for with any regularity these days is the paper crane. This is because of what the crane symbolizes and the role of paper cranes in many aspects of Japanese life even now. Cranes can represent long life, fidelity, happiness, prosperity, health, healing and peace. They are a part of Japanese legend, and folded paper cranes are often used as charms for making wishes come true. 

Friends and family may cooperate to fold one thousand small paper cranes and string them together to celebrate happy occasions such as a wedding or the birth of a child. In this form they are called senbazuru. Senbazuru are also made for the sick, with wishes for healing; and offered to the spirits of those killed in accidents or in times of war, as a prayer for peace.

Although I don't believe paper cranes have any power to grant wishes, I am drawn to the sentiments they represent. So I fold them or I paint them, and I give them to people who understand without my saying so that I hold them in my heart and in my prayers. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

raising etegami chickens

My sister and her husband have been building an earthship in rural Colorado. If you've never heard of an earthship, make sure you google the word or click the link above.  Everything about their home and style of living fascinates me. Now they have started raising chickens-- one step toward a delightful collection of livestock that she dreams of raising on their property.

The chickens shown here are actually someone else's chickens, but I hope to paint hers too one of these days. This is as close as I will ever get to raising chickens myself. I'm planning to print up a bunch of these etegami before adding any words, so that I can add words later--to the prints-- in the language and sentiment suited to each recipient. The originals will eventually get mailed too, or listed on my Etsy shop.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

stamps you'll want to lick

UPPERCASE magazine comes up with jillions of interesting art projects and calls-for-submission, but rarely do the calls overlap with my limited skills and not-so-limited interests to the extent that I go beyond just thinking of participating. 

This month, however, UPPERCASE has a couple of postage-stamp-related calls on offer---and you know how much I love artistic postage stamps. So, this time, I'm not just thinking about submitting, I'm actually thinking really hard

But all I have so far is a vague idea that celebrates the 2014 UNESCO decision to register traditional Japanese cuisine as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. Oops, I remembered to write in the country name, but I forgot to include a denomination (value) for the stamps..... Hmm, must add it later or do it over.

The call description says:
Design or Illustrate your ideal postage stamp! What would be the perfect topic? What style? Typographic or illustrative? Vintage-inspired or modern? What country (real or imagined)?

Whether I end up submitting work or not, it will be very cool to see what other people create for this call. If you'd like to submit a design of your own, read the submission details (size, deadline, how to submit, etc) at this link

PS: don't let my photo confuse you; submit your stamp design in the correct dimensions and without perforations.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

brain food

My last etegami project left me so drained, I've been having trouble concentrating on the next one.  So I decided to have fish for lunch. Welllll, didn't your mother teach you that fish is brain food?

I googled it to make sure, and my wise mother's teaching was confirmed. Actually, I eat fish almost every day anyway-- but of course, I live in Japan, and we know a thing or two about good fish.

Anyway, after my brain food lunch I got inspired to make some brain food mail art. Here's another set for my on-going candy box mail art series. Let me know if you'd like one.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

2015 illustrated recipes: set 2 (edible wild plants)

I've mentioned before that I was asked by the Japan Times ST to create 4 sets of illustrated recipes this year-- one for each season. For a while I was afraid I wasn't going to make the April 1 deadline for the spring set. But I find that-- for better or for worse-- deadlines hold a kind of magical power over me.

Somehow I was able to draw on hidden reserves of energy, and I managed to finish these with time to spare. I'm scared to examine them too closely lest I find new reasons to start all over from the beginning. (I do that a lot... A whole lot.)

Each recipe features what the Japanese call sansai --wild edible plants, especially those that signal the end of winter and the beginning of spring. In this case, the fiddlehead ferns, field horsetails, wild mint, butterbur, dandelions, wild mitsuba, mugwort, and even the leaves of the yaezakura cherry tree that grow in my very neglected back yard. They serve as my excuse when the neighbors wonder out loud if I ever plan to "do anything with that jungle."

The "jungle" is unclaimed by dogs or cats, untouched by either artificial fertilizer or week killer, partially-enclosed by a wall and not particularly close to heavily-trafficked roads. So it's quite safe to eat the edible weeds that grow there-- in moderation. Besides, it wouldn't be right to greet a Japanese spring without adding sansai to the menu. It just wouldn't.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

the games of childhood

I had noticed the first photo in the January issue of Gekkan Etegami (a monthly magazine published by the Japan Etegami Society), but it wasn't until I saw the February and March issues that I realized the magazine was doing a monthly serial featuring etegami by the artist known as "Grandma Chieko" (Chieko Matsuo).

These etegami are part of a collection that was published in 2004 under the title Osana Asobi (the games of childhood). The title refers to Matsuo's own childhood in rural Nagano prefecture, and the games are ones that most children today-- glued as they are to their electronic gadgets-- have probably never played.

The etegami in the three photos shown here depict indoor games played during the long, cold winters of northern Japan. Photo#1 depicts Fukuwarai, which is similar in concept to Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Photo#2  depicts Mikan Hiki (fishing for tangerines). And Photo#3 depicts a scattering of toys and tools that include crayons, a paper balloon, cloth and paper dolls, o-tedama (bean bags for juggling), a paddle and shuttlecock for playing hanetsuki, colored paper for origami, and my own favorite: o-hajiki-- the flat-ish glass "marbles" used by girls. "I still have these treasures," it says on the card.

Matsuo's style is to fill the card with detail and use jillions of colors. It feels a bit cluttered compared to the style endorsed by Koike, the "father" of the modern etegami movement. But her etegami are warm and cozy, and they give me a feeling of security. It must be because she and I are both children of the Showa era. The youth of today were born in the Heisei era. I wonder what images make them feel happy and safe. Smart phones and keyboards? It's an interesting thought.