Tuesday, January 31, 2012

snow city sapporo

For this week's Illustration Friday challenge (topic: "forward") I'm posting my latest illustrated map to show you how my hometown tries to maintain a forward-looking mindset about the huge amount of snow that we have to deal with for six months of every year. You can see a bigger version of the map, along with my other illustrated maps, here, on the They Draw and Travel website.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

layers of snow (misuzu kaneko series #4)

With an average yearly snowfall of 630 cm (248 inches), Sapporo has the dubious honor of being the "snowiest major city" in the world. We try to think of snow as a resource rather than a liability, but sometimes it's hard to maintain that perspective. In 1972 Sapporo hosted the Winter Olympics, the first ever held in Asia, and of course, we are famous for the Sapporo Snow Festival, which draws 2 million tourists from around the world, more than doubling the city's population of 1.9 million. Speaking of which, this year's Snow Festival starts on February 6th and goes until the 12th. Give me a shout if you plan to be here for it. I will be watching it on the TV screen in the warmth of my living room. : )

Note: The translation of the Misuzu Kaneko poem accompanying the etegami collage is my own work.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

illustration friday (twirl 2)

Here's another "twirl" for you. Although I'd forgotten where I found the quote, Alison tells me it comes from the poem Samara by Sonny Rainshine. Thank you Alison!!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

illustration friday (twirl)

The Japanese characters are read kaza-hana or kaza-bana (literally: "wind flowers"), and are a poetic reference to snowflakes that dance in the wind on a sunny day. The inspiration for the snowflakes in this etegami were actually crocheted doilies. ;p

Monday, January 16, 2012

more get-well cards

The first one sort of overlaps into Valentine territory, and has special meaning for me.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

illustration friday (prepare)

The words are my own, though I imagine many people have expressed similar sentiments.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

the japan postal service

A recent article on the thought-provoking blog Cheerio Road takes on what my cousin Karen calls the demise of the US Postal Service. Woven cleverly into the article is an introduction to the art of etegami, but you must (please) read it for yourself to see what it signifies. You may even want to try your luck with the etegami coasters giveaway. : )

Do you remember what I wrote in my January 1 post about Japanese New Year postcards? I wrote: The cards ... arrive on New Years morning in a bundle fastened with a rubber band. At the top of the bundle is a greeting from the Japan Postal Service with their best wishes for the new year. I though you might like to see this year's JPS greeting card (above), with the photo of the mailman on his red JPS motorbike, riding along a path through the rice paddies in a picturesque rural area. The writing translates as follows:

Happy New Year from the JPS group. We wish to convey our most sincere appreciation for your patronage. Ours is a country where people send their hearts to one another at the start of each new year. Once again we deliver to you-- distilled in the form of New Year postcards-- the love and thoughts of the people most dear to you. Connecting people to people, community to community. We at JPS promise to re-examine what we are fundamentally here to do, so that we can better provide you with reliable services that are worthy of your trust. January 1, 2012

The sentiments expressed here are part of why I don't think JPS is going to fade away any time soon, in spite of the internet revolution. A few years ago, I wrote a post about the JPS and its relationship to the art of etegami. Dismiss it as clever marketing if you like, but the JPS really does make itself indispensable to community life.

illustration friday (grounded)

March 11, 2011. Japan. The day ships were grounded on the tops of tall buildings.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

get-well cards


Old-fashioned Thermometer.

Virus (this one happens to be a mononucleosis virus).

Making an original, handmade get-well card is easier than going out and buying one. Really. And so much more fun to receive, don't you think?

Monday, January 2, 2012

back to the basics (again)

"O snail. Climb Mt. Fuji. But slowly, slowly." (Kobayashi Issa, 1763 - 1827)

Last month, I came across an old sales catalog for etegami supplies that I had saved for the sake of the back cover. It was printed with a list labeled "The Seven Marks of Etegami," which I have translated below.

1. Awkwardness in etegami is fine-- even desirable.

2. Observe your subject closely and draw boldly.

3. Don't make an under-drawing. Your etegami should be a spontaneous, one-shot deal.

4. Use an ink brush and sumi ink.

5. When making your lines, move the ink brush across the paper very, very slowly.

6. Put your heart into the selection and writing of the accompanying words.

7. When the etegami is done, address it, stamp it, and stick it in the mailbox.

Unlike a lot of traditional Japanese Art, etegami has very few hard and fast rules. But it is founded on some basic principles. These principles have been expressed as guidelines by different etegami masters in different ways, and I've posted them on this blog from time to time. Compare the list above with the one in this post.

If you are familiar with my work, or that of other etegami artists, you've probably seen plenty of etegami that seem to bend or ignore these guidelines. In fact, I frequently experiment with different writing utensils or inks, and I often make etegami collages for a change in routine. When I ask for submissions to an etegami call, the only thing I am inflexible about is that the submissions must be a combination of image and words, and that they be in an easy-to-mail form. After all, the name of this art form is E (picture/image) + Tegami (letter/missive).

But I do think it is important to know what the early leaders and formers of etegami had in mind, and what they thought made etegami different from other forms of popular art. If you have been producing etegami without understanding this, you may want to take the time to digest the guidelines. See if it makes a difference in the way you paint, and in how you express yourself in this medium.

the dilemma

Seahorses. "Moving Forward"

Sprouting Water Chestnuts. "Hope Sprouts"

Flying Daruma Kite with Issa haiku.

Dragon fruit

Every year I write about nengajou (Japanese New Year postcards) traditions on this blog, but I never thought to mention that tradition prohibits a certain group of people from participating in this annual exchange. These are the people who are in ritual mourning due to the loss of a family member during the year preceding the New Year's Day in question. Instead, about a month before New Year's Day, they send totally unadorned cards to their friends and business associates explaining why they will not be sending out nengajou, and which of their family has passed away.

Because of the tremendous devastation and loss of life resulting from the March 11 disasters, the whole nation was (and continues to be) in mourning. At the end of 2011, there was a lot of discussion, in private and in the media, about whether nengajou should be sent out at all, even if one hadn't actually lost a family member. It was generally agreed that it would be okay for nengajou to be exchanged among those who had not lost a family member. However, in deference to those who had suffered loss, people exchanging cards should avoid certain phrases that were overly joyful or congratulatory.

I listened to these discussions with only half my attention, because the boundary between acceptable and non-acceptable phrases seemed a bit too subtle for me to take seriously. And besides, the same arguments had gone on all year regarding whether it was proper to enjoy cherry blossom-viewing or summer festivals with fireworks or any number of fun things, while so many people in our country were suffering such enormous pain and sorrow. Opinions were always sharply divided, even among those who were the most severely affected.

Nevertheless, when the time came to chose the words to go on my etegami nengajou, I did ponder on this matter, and rather than using words like Happy, Joyful, or Celebrate, I chose words like Hope and Moving Forward. Not because I am overly concerned with propriety, but because if my choice of words can cause either pain or comfort, I would rather they cause comfort. 

The etegami I've posted above are some of the ones I painted as this year's nengajou. I blogged about the dragon etegami a few months ago. If you missed it and would like to see it, click here.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

nengajou highlights

The highlight of every New Years Day is the nengajou (Japanese new year greeting postcards) that arrive sometime during the morning. People sending traditional nengajou must slip the cards through the specially-labeled nengajou slot in the mailbox before a pre-determined deadline (usually around December 24) in order to be guaranteed delivery on January 1. The cards that make the deadline arrive on New Years morning in a bundle fastened with a rubber band. At the top of the bundle is a greeting from the Japan Postal Service with their best wishes for the new year. The cards that don't make the deadline get delivered with the regular mail, after the holiday is over, and after the postal service is back to normal operation.

I just love the excitement of waiting for nengajo delivery on New Years morning! The images posted here are my favorites (so far) among the artsy cards from this year's haul. Some are hand-painted originals, others are prints made from original artwork. I expect more will trickle in after the holiday is over. Eventually, I will store them in a special nengajou card album. I refer to these albums when it's time to make next year's nengajou address list. I also refer to the album in twelve years' time when the oriental zodiac comes full circle, to get inspiration for my own etegami nengajou designs.

This year's zodiac animal is the dragon, and most of the cards I received, even the majority that were not handmade, depicted a dragon of some sort. Sea horses count as dragons, as they are called "dragon children" in Japanese. But the zodiac animal is by no means the only felicitous image for a New Year card. Mt.Fuji, a brilliant sunrise, red-crowned cranes, flying kites, the otafuku mask (as in 2nd image from the bottom) and many more images are used for nengajou.

Dearest friends and followers, May you have a blessed and joyful 2012!