Wednesday, September 29, 2010

the french connection

A few days ago I received some mailart from @yun of France, who interacts actively with us on this blog. Enclosed with the card were two blank sheets of 45-gram-weight washi paper that appeared to be the right dimensions for hanshi, which is what we call the thin-ish washi sheets used for calligraphy practice.

Yun asked me to test the paper to see if it was a suitable substitute for the kind of washi cards I have recommended for etegami use. It seems she is able to find sumi ink, gansai paints, and traditional Japanese writing brushes in France, but not washi cards. So she had the idea of gluing washi paper to stiff cards cut out of cereal boxes. I tried out her idea.

I used the traditional Japanese writing and coloring brushes to paint the first two etegami (photo at the top), without first gluing them to a stiff back. I was happy with the way the sumi spread on the paper. The gansai paint also went on adequately, with a good amount of nijimi (bleed), but it tended to seep through the thin paper and wet the surface beneath. If I hadn't been careful, the pool of paint that collected beneath the paper would have stained the uncolored parts of the etegami as well. Fortunately, this didn't happen. After the etegami were dry, I glued them to cards cut from the back of a taco shell box. The washi paper tended to wrinkle as I glued it to the stiffer surface, but I managed to spread it flat enough that the wrinkles aren't too obvious.

Next, I tested it with the bamboo quill pen, but I thought it would work better if I glued the paper to a stiff back first. This worked great! (photo below) I was more careful with the colors this time, so there was no serious seepage. My conclusion is that this method works very well as a substitute for washi postcards. NOTE: Paint on the rough side of the washi sheet, not the smooth side.

Thanks, Yun! Yun also sent me a vibrant octopus etegami she had made, using the same washi paper glued to a stiff backing. I've posted it on the mailart gallery blog, so be sure to take a look.


  1. I recently took an ink painting class (suibokuga) with a famous Japanese painter (his name escapes me now)... I didnt do very well. But your painting are inspiring!

  2. Thanks a lot to you Debbie, for the tests and opinions on the paper. I'll have to eat plenty of cereals to make plenty of washi cards.
    I painted on the soft side for a simple reason, that the rough side sticks better on the box; also I understand that we could do the painting on both sides?

  3. I've been making etegami cards out of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy paper glued to card stock. First I glue a sheet of 110# card to a sheet of 67# card using a spray-on glue. After pressing this for about an hour, I spray the glue onto the 110# side of the laminated card (this way the thicker card is in the middle, and the finished card resists warping), and then carefully put on the calligraphy paper, and press for another hour. Finally, I cut the cards to size, and they are ready to do etegami on.

  4. @Jeanette, I don't know much about suibokuga (or sumi-e), but I believe it has many rules, and that there are masters and disciples of the art. This is not true with etegami. Anyone can do etegami. You don't need skill and you don't have to have all the "right" equipment.

    Etegami artists may incorporate various traditions and have certain prejudices about style and materials, but if you break tradition by using unusual materials, that's okay too. As long as it's a simple image with accompanying words, and as long as it can be posted as a card or letter, no one can tell you that it's not etegami.

    I have my own prejudices (such as preferring hand-painted images to computer generated or photographic images), but I can't say that something done by those methods doesn't qualify as etegami.

  5. @Yun, At the start of each session, when we practice our "living lines" before settling into painting etegami, we always draw on the rough side of a sheet of hanshi (thin washi paper used in calligraphy practice).

    I think this is because the rough side has enough irregularities, and produces enough friction, to help slow down our pen strokes so that each heart beat jiggles the line and gives character to it.

    This is the kind of etegami that I pursue. Other etegami artists may not value this as much. But I much prefer rough surfaces because they make it easier to produce "living lines." Of course, you can make your own choices about the effects you want to produce.

  6. @Mike, Wow. I didn't realize you went through so many steps, or took so much thought and time, to produce your cards. I'm not familiar with buying paper by weight number as you and Yun seem to do. But it seems you both came up with the perfect solution to the washi card supply problem. I am impressed by your persistence and dedication. (bow)

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