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.


  1. Thank you for posting those guidelines. I think that is really helpful, freeing.

  2. That's a fail for me then, maybe I will call what I do "small works on washi postcards bearing little relationship to the original idea of etegami but I like doing them!" :(

  3. @Carole, there's no "fail." What you do is Etegami. :)

  4. Debbie,

    First off, I adore this Etegami with that cute little snail and accompanying quote. I also enjoyed hearing the basic rules of creating Etegami. I have yet to make one, but I see it happening in the not too distant future. I especially like the free spiritedness of Etegami.

    As an aside, I adore Haiku, so I decided to write one a day this year. The writing part is easy, it is the commitment to doing one a day for a year that is the challenging part, but I am on board!

    XO, Margie

  5. What a wonderful blog! So glad you stopped by mine so I was led to yours, I'm going to have fun going through some of your back posts.

  6. That's what I like the most - awkwardness is okay!

  7. Reading those traditional guidelines waas very interesting...many could be applied to any type of art, especially #2!! Thanks for sharing.

  8. @Sarah, I think the idea behind #2 is that you don't draw from an image in your mind, but something you can place in front of you and observe. Then when you put brush to paper, you draw as though the the object were just busting out of the card. This was how I was taught. I followed this "rule" for more than ten years before I got tired of drawing the same things over and over again. So I stretched my subject matter to include photographs.

  9. Even though I don't do etegami myself, I found this post fascinating. Several of the rules are thought-provoking for any form of art. And when I do a large painting (which happens rarely) I often include a snail because I'm such a slow painter, so your quote is a perfect mantra for me as I inch forward!

  10. Hi! I was looking for a picture of mt fuji and I like the message accompanying this postcard, may I use this picture and add some stuff of my own? (i am okay to leave credits), please let me know, thanks!

    1. Hi Dolly, thanks for dropping by. Please explain what do you mean by "add some stuff" of your own? If you mean that you will change my image in any way, the answer is no, you can't. If you mean that you want to use my image separately from my blog post, no you can't. You may, however, post a link to this blog post on your own blog. Would that be good enough? If I misunderstood your request, please email me at dosankodebbie (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) jp