Saturday, November 14, 2009
I once received an email from a woman who confessed she had gotten discouraged by her brief encounter with etegami because it was a "one-shot deal." I assume she meant that the success or failure of a piece often becomes apparent with the first few strokes, and there's simply no way to un-do the damage. Not to mention that a perfectly good drawing can be ruined when you add the words. Or sadder yet, a poorly placed or mis-pressed name seal can mar an otherwise well-balanced piece at the very, very end. I am familiar with the frustration this causes, and have filled numerous trash bags with torn-up etegami to prove it.
When I first started Etegami, I was advised that if I was unhappy with a piece, I should set it aside for a time. It often happens that a piece which seems all "wrong" will not look wrong at all when you come back to it later. I've saved a lot of etegami from oblivion this way. But I came to realize that there was something else-- something more troubling-- going on each time I judged one of my etegami a success or failure. I was looking at my work and thinking: "Does this piece reflect well on me?" or, "Will the receiver admire me for this?" And I recognized that there was something very wrong, very un-Etegami, in those thoughts. Etegami is not about making yourself look good. Etegami is about enjoying the process, and about wanting the receiver to feel good, amused, comforted, or maybe stimulated to thought.
I've mentioned before that the motto of the modern Etegami movement can be summarized as: "Clumsy makes good Etegami." Anyone can draw etegami. You certainly don't need to be an artist, and you don't need to have what the world calls talent. The more unselfconscious the mind and unrefined the skills, the more charm an etegami often has. I confess I am weak. Praise is as sweet as honey. But in craving honey I am in danger of losing the Etegami spirit.
This is all by way of explaining the attached photo. Many things went "wrong" with this drawing of a small orange and yellow pumpkin. Almost from the beginning, I was unhappy with the shape. Then I didn't wait for the sumi outline to dry before I started coloring it, so the outline got smeared. By the time I added the words, I had given up on it, so I wrote sloppily and overlapped the drawing, which I usually try not to do. I set it aside for a time, and later decided the squashed drawing and sloppy writing had a sort of charm. Then, as I was writing out the address of a new friend, I inadvertently laid the card face down on a surface spotted from a rubber air mail stamp, and the red ink transferred to the drawing. There was no way to un-do it. What to do? What to do?! I caught myself thinking, "How is this etegami going to reflect on me?" And that did it. I was not going to let my vanity keep me from sending this card. "You don't need talent to draw etegami," I had written in my brief message on the other side. So there was no reason to hesitate. Hopefully this clumsy card will encourage my new friend to give etegami a try. And if not, it may at least amuse her.