Monday, December 30, 2013

dear mr. postman

Every year I try to paint a New Year etegami for my local post office to thank them for their fantastic service on which I so depend. The thing that looks like a T with a bar above it is the symbol for the Japan Postal Service.

The Japanese writing on this one basically means I will count on you this year as always, but the word for "count on/depend on" has the same sound as the word for "letter/correspondence," so I playfully used the latter character for the former meaning to make a pun. The horse, of course, represents 2014, the year of the horse. The various bags are mail delivery bags, and I pressed my Japanese name stamp on the bag at the top of the pile.

Monday, December 23, 2013

the music box

Due to medical conditions that make it difficult for me to leave the house for the 5~6 months of our long winters, I generally announce the start of my annual hibernation in November, and do not come out of my cave until early April. So I was surprised and delighted when the three other ladies that make up my etegami group drove through the ice and snow to visit me last week.

They came bearing gifts.  Small things, because the giving and receiving of gifts in Japan is serious business, and you don't want to inadvertently put a burden of obligation on a friend. The most memorable of these gifts was a CD recording of classical music performed by music boxes. My friend, the giver, is a sales rep for a company that produces high-end music boxes of awesome craftsmanship and jaw-dropping price tags. The ignoble thought flashed through my mind that the CD might be a sales gimmick, and I felt briefly uncomfortable accepting it.

But after my friends left, I read the pamphlet that came with the CD. It claimed all kinds of health benefits, both physical and emotional, from listening to the music box recordings. Then I understood that, whether or not the company's claims are true, the gift showed my friend's honest desire to provide comfort for the hardest months of winter that still loom ahead.

The words on the card are from the prophesy in Isaiah 40:1, 2 which is surely familiar to anyone who has listened to Handel's Messiah or sung the Christmas carol by that title.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

bertie plays the blues

The characters in the books of Alexander McCall Smith often inspire my etegami, and one of my eternal favorites is little Bertie. He is such a treasure!!

Here are more AMS-inspired etegami. It seems that the oldest goes back to 2009.  How time flies!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

fridays in kamakura

Today I finished reading Fridays in Kamakura: The Case of Zen and Zucchini and Other Stories.  It is the sequel to Thursdays in Yokohama: The Casebook of Irving and Innocence by Wm (Wilhelmina) Penn, which I wrote about in this March post.

Like the earlier collection of stories featuring Innocence (a relative newcomer to Japan) and Irving (an "old Japan hand"), Fridays in Kamakura offers humorous insights into Japanese culture. In this sequel, however, the recurring theme is "second year syndrome," a very real and tough stage of many an expat's Japan experience, and not exactly a laughing matter. But Irving reminds Innocence (and us) to approach all such trials with a sense of humor and lots and lots of alliteration. :p

Sunday, December 15, 2013

sumi chat

Etegami using only sumi, without gansai colors
Let me tell you what little I know about sumi, the black ink we use for making the outlines and words in Etegami. In English, we call a pressed-and-dried cake of sumi an inkstick. To make ink from the inkstick, it has to be continuously ground against an inkstone with a small quantity of water to produce a dark liquid which is then applied to paper with an ink brush. Sumi is made primarily from soot and animal glue, which doesn't sound at all attractive, but the finished product is sublime in color, fragrance, and writing texture. Read more detail about the sumi-producing process on the Boku-undo website.

liquified sumi for Etegami use

In Etegami, it is common to use a pre-liquified form of sumi that comes in plastic bottles. The price varies widely with the quality of the product. The product I normally use is a concentrated liquid of very high quality (and cost) that comes in the gray bottle and light blue box in the photograph above. A bit of this ink should be poured into a separate bottle with a tight-fitting cap, and diluted with more than ten times as much water before using. Never pour leftover ink back into the original bottle with the unused ink. The other bottle, the black one with the white cap and spout, I purchased from a 100-yen shop. It is used without dilution, and is good enough for young school children doing calligraphy practice. I learned to my dismay, that this cheaper ink smears when it comes into contact with gansai paints, so it really doesn't suit etegami. All sumi stains and is difficult, or even impossible, to remove from clothing.

cheap sumi smears when gansai paint is added to the image

Friday, December 13, 2013

ka ki ku ke ko

You may have noticed that I've been wandering off the path of orthodox etegami a lot recently. And as fun as it has been, I like-- and need-- to return to the basics at regular intervals and wiggle my bare toes in the fertile soil of true etegami.

Here I dangle the writing brush from the tips of my fingers, perpendicular to the writing surface, with my elbow lifted to shoulder level. I move the brush slowly, ever so slowly, so that the line wavers from the strain of keeping my elbow raised and from the friction of the brush against the washi card, while the sumi ink blotches with each beat of my heart. This is called a "living line" and it is at the soul of etegami.

Today's etegami is a simple persimmon accompanied by writing that says "ka ki ku ke konnichi wa." I played with the k syllables in the Japanese syllabary. "kaki" means persimmon. And "konnichi wa" means hello. No deep meaning. Just a cheerful greeting for any day of the year, but especially late fall and winter.

Monday, December 9, 2013

galaxy cheesecake

It's been a long long time since I added to my illustrated recipe series, but my love of cheesecake and my fascination with the "galaxy" pattern revealed in a cross-section of kiwi fruit inspired me. This is already posted on They Draw and Cook so you can see an enlarged version by clicking the link.

I'm still struggling with the gray-ish cast of my scans. I hope you can enjoy the image anyway.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

dancing among the clover

Some time ago, I was asked to design a cover for the Japanese translation of a best-selling book that a friend had written on the subject of marriage. After reading the original English version, the image that came to my mind was a clover chain. The three clover blossoms (God, husband, wife), the heart-shaped leaves (love), the braided stems (strength, stability), and even the fragrance of the blossoms (offering, sacrifice) are all part of the symbolism that ties the image to the theme of the book, and was inspired by a verse from Ecclesiastes 4:12: Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. See also Ephesians 5:2

I received a pdf of the final version of the cover from the publisher today!

Monday, December 2, 2013