Sunday, June 21, 2009

drawing hydrangeas out of season

Here's the hydrangea etegami that I mentioned in my previous post. It depicts the hydrangea in my own yard, late in the year, just before the first snowfall in November. Hydrangea is a plant associated with tsuyu, the rainy season. Famous paintings and woodblock prints often show hydrangea in the rain, lush and dewy-looking. Those familiar with the climate of Japan, know that the rainy season is now (June~July) just about everywhere in Japan--except Hokkaido. We don't really have a rainy season, at least not like the rest of Japan does. And flowers don't even form on our hydrangea bushes until mid to late July. They continue to bloom until late fall. As winter approaches, the blossoms dry on the branches, and as they dry, their color undergoes subtle changes. Ours start out blue, but as winter approaches, some of the blossoms take on purplish and greenish hues. The leaves too, take on the autumnal tints of orange and brown with swatches of red. When the air begins to smell like imminent snowfall, I cut the stems of the flowering branches, bring them inside, and hang them upside down from a clothesline in the laundry room. When the stems and the blossoms are completely stiff and dry, I arrange them in a large ceramic pot to display during our long winter.

In my second (and final) year of participating in a post office-sponsored etegami group, we were given long cards to try our hands at long-ish subject matter. I drew hydrangea for the first time, and was pleased enough with the result to submit it for the annual post office etegami exhibit. I received some interesting feedback from my fellow etegami artists. (1) I used too many colors (2) I didn't leave enough uncolored space (3) hydrangea is a kigo (seasonal word used in poetry) for the rainy season, and is not usually depicted in art outside of that season.

I was a fledgling etegami artist, and hadn't yet grasped the etegami ideal of simplicity in form and color, or the technique of moving the ink brush slowly enough to make the lines wobble. After all these years, I still struggle against using too many colors. On the other hand, maybe I'm not trying very hard to tame that tendency. I guess deep down inside, I'm satisfied with the way I use color. Same with drawing subjects outside the seasons with which they are associated. I'm not going to draw a strawberry in the wintertime. But since the hydrangea is actually there in my yard in November, blooming and changing in subtle ways, I figure it's all right to try to capture it in an etegami, even if it isn't the rainy season. Am I being rebellious? I don't know. But there are almost as many etegami styles as there are etegami artists, even in Japan. Besides, I draw for my own pleasure. And so should you.


  1. Looks like another pretty one to me! I have looked online at other etegami sites and those artists do not follow the rules of the ideals either, so you are in good company.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you found the etegami post in my little corner of the internet. I have still only done etegami that one time, but it's not something easily forgotten. The struggle between wanting to control every stroke and letting things come out as they will was an eye-opening experience. When the teacher was having us draw the lines and spirals for warm-up, the pace was so slow as to be almost meditative. There's also something natural and appealing in art that's never meant to be perfect. It's invigorating and freeing at the same time.

    To that effect, I think you're absolutely right--what's the point of telling someone to do etegami by-the-book when it's never supposed to be perfect to begin with?

  3. If you have pleased yourself, that is enough. People are quick with criticism and slow with praise!