Monday, November 28, 2016

happy holidays

"You can hear it if you listen. The sound of the snow."
Due to the increased risk of lost packages during the extreme congestion of mail delivery in December, and my reluctance to charge for the more secure but higher cost of Express Delivery, I generally close my Etsy shop every year from December 1 to 31. It will re-open on January 1, and shipping will resume a few days later. If there is something you can't wait for, I suggest you order it by November 30!! If you can wait until January for shipping, but want to reserve a listing or request a custom order, let me know by Etsy message any time. As always, you can get prints of my work from RedBubble every day of the year.

crow and persimmon in the snow
In the meantime, Happy Holidays to you all.  And if you have no holidays to be happy about, Happy December anyway. As for myself, I will be spending the month in the relative warmth of my drafty old house, quietly rejoicing in the grace of God, while the snow storms rage outside (both literally and figuratively), and store up strength and creative inspiration for the new year.

PS: The corrugated cardboard etegami crow-cards from the Crow-Card Giveaway are already on their way to the winners of the drawing. Thank you for participating. It was a lot of fun for me too!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

#twitterartexhibit 2017

I started submitting to the Twitter Art Exhibit charity art call last year.  It says on their Facebook page "Through art we can change the world." I don't believe art is that powerful, or humanity that righteous. At least not enough to permanently improve the world. But the possibility of even short-term improvement in the world is a good thing. And the possibility of permanent improvement in one small matter is even better. So I participate.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

crow-card giveaway

 Encouraged by the enthusiasm of readers for the crow-themed coasters I introduced in my last post,  I've now moved on from coasters to corrugated cardboard etegami. In fact, I've decided to thank you (commenters and lurkers alike) with a long overdue give-away.

I will accept the first ten requests I receive, but requests must be made by snail mail, and they must reach me by November 30, 2016.

If you'd like a customized, crow-themed, corrugated cardboard etegami, send me a note by snail mail with (1) your name and address written clearly in block letters, AND (2) the words that you'd like me to use on your card.  I will create an image suited to the words you give me. If you'd rather that I chose the words myself, please say so in your note.

I cannot accept requests by email or blog comment. My postal address is in the banner of my received mailart blog.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

one person's "ewww" is another person's "squee"

How do you feel about crows? I have a friend-since-childhood who loves them so much she squeals with delight every time she sees one, even stopping her car on the highway to beckon to them and feed them and coo at them. They actually seem to trust her and will approach her, even at first meeting.

She made me promise to paint a crow etegami for her birthday this year. I reluctantly agreed, but it took me a long time to get inspired. Before I knew it, her birthday had come and gone. Once the pressure was off, I was suddenly painting crows on everything, including these drink coasters. My friend loves to drink wine, and coasters seemed an appropriate gift for her. But I can't imagine anyone else in the world wanting to rest their wineglass on a crow coaster. What do you think?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

coast through the holidays

One of my favorite non-postcard etegami projects is hand-painted etegami drink coasters. You can slip one into an envelope and mail it as an alternative to the traditional holiday greeting card. Or let your party guests take home the coaster that was part of their place setting, as a souvenir of the event.  A set of coasters makes a nice stocking stuffer or hostess gift. You can probably think of waaay more uses for them.

I like to leave my coasters un-coated so I can enjoy the texture of the washi paper. The sumi ink and gansai colors I use won't smear even if the coasters get wet, and they soon dry out anyway. They will, however, stain a bit from dark-colored spills, so when I give them as gifts, I often cover them with clear adhesive film to help them stay pretty longer.

Custom etegami coasters are now listed on my Etsy shop, if you'd like to take a peek.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

the farmer's market

Mmmm. Just love these autumn colors and flavors. (top left) Japanese sweet potatoes (satsuma-imo); (top right) crane's neck squash (tsurukubi kabocha); (bottom center) Japanese pumpkin (kabocha).

Thursday, October 20, 2016

persimmon pudding pie

The snow bugs were right. We had our first snowfall in the city last night. Thick, heavy, wet snow. This snow will melt before the long-term, lingering snow comes; the snow that won't melt until spring. We call the long-term snow ne-yuki, which literally means "rooted snow" (snow that has taken root).

Along with the ne-yuki, winter brings persimmons. We get a big box of them from friends in Shikoku every year. Persimmons go from unripe to over-ripe very quickly, so I've learned to incorporate them into our winter menu in many forms so as not to waste a single fruit.

Once they become too soft even to peel or slice (just before they start to rot), I grip the fruit in my hand and squeeze the flesh out of the skin into a bowl. Fresh or frozen, this pulp becomes the basis for one of my favorite winter desserts: persimmon pudding pie-- a bit of sunshine to brighten our long, dark, freezing Hokkaido winters.

Monday, October 17, 2016

snow bugs

"When the snow bugs start to swarm, the first snowfall of the year will follow in a week to ten days." I was taught this in my snow-country childhood, and though I don't know the science behind it, I've never had reason to doubt it.

Snow bugs (yuki mushi) are very tiny, and when they swarm, their woolly white butts make them look like snow. They are not so easy to notice in the bright light of day....that is, until you catch them in your mouth, nostrils, and eyes while zooming happily down a hill on your bicycle into an unexpected swarm.

Apparently they belong to the aphid family, but let's not give that too much thought. Do you have snow bugs where you live?

Monday, October 3, 2016

how to make a towel brush

You will need: a disposable wooden chopstick, an old terry cloth towel, two or more ordinary rubber bands (or one large, thick rubber band as shown), water.

Cut a square piece (about 8 cm x 8 cm) out of the towel. Moisten it with water. Fold it into a triangle. Place the narrower end of the chopstick on the middle of the long edge of the folded triangle. Fold the left edge of the triangle diagonally over the stick.

Press down on the covered stick, rolling it tightly towards the right edge to make a firm, pointed tip at the end. Wrap tightly with the rubber band(s) to keep the towel in place.

Dip the towel brush into your bottle of sumi ink and draw the contour of your chosen image. To apply color, use a different (clean) towel brush, or a regular etegami brush. I used a regular brush for color.

After some practice, you may find a better way to make your own towel brush. If so, please share your ideas with me. I seem to have gone as far as I can with this method. The coarseness of the lines is intriguing, and I hope to come back to it after a good long break.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

the little grape's big dream

The poetry of Naoko Kudo (mentioned briefly in my last post) has inspired a lot of my etegami recently, both directly and indirectly. This etegami is of the indirect variety, and though I hate long blog posts, it needs a bit of explanation.

It was inspired by the poem titled Yama-budou no yume (literally: "dreams of the mountain-grapes," except that yama-budou aren't really grapes at all. You can learn more about this plant at this link: Vitis coignetiae).

The poem describes the young berries as they discuss what they want to be when they grow up. One says "a muscat grape" and another "a concord grape," but then the dreams start getting weird. One says he wants to grow up to be a marble, and another excitedly says "When I grow up, I'm going to be the full moon!!"

I was thinking about this poem the other day as I was watching an odd-looking ship approach Ishikari port in the far distance from the wood deck of my studio in Atsuta. I had never actually seen a ship of this type before, but I recognized it at once from a very peculiar conversation I'd had with a gnomish electrician from Atsuta village just a few days earlier. I plan to use that electrician in an etegami some day, but that's another story.

Anyway, I recognized the ship as a liquefied natural gas carrier. And my next thought was that the tanks looked like huge grapes. From there, my thoughts went to the poem, and I began to imagine a tiny mountain-grape with the huge and totally irrational dream of growing up to become an LNG tank. Thus the etegami was born.

I tore the etegami image of the LNG carrier out of the washi card I had painted it on, and glued it onto a patch of dark blue paper cut out of an old paper bag, to give it the look of the sea.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

towel brush etegami

The town of Senshuu (known for being the origin of towel production in Japan) is calling for etegami painted by "towel brush," so I thought I would give it a try. A towel brush is basically a chopstick or other stick that has a small piece of terry cloth towel wrapped around one end, fastened tightly with rubber bands.

There are no hard and fast rules about how to make a towel brush, but I basically followed the directions in the image posted below. The merit --or charm-- of using a towel brush instead of a regular ink brush is supposed to be the coarseness and sloppiness of the lines. I certainly had difficulty affixing the towel tightly enough to the stick to use it with any control at all. And I quickly learned that, when dipped into my sumi ink bottle, the towel brush soaks up the ink so fast I have trouble keeping the bottle filled. It feels kind of wasteful, to tell the truth...

The dragonfly (top photo) was my first attempt. I hated it. But later it started to grow on me. The words are from a children's song about dragonflies and sunsets.

The next three attempts. I hated these too. The cucumber says "(Summer is over but) I still have a role to play." The open jar says "I let the fireflies go."

I was pretty disappointed with my towel brush etegami attempts up to this point, so for the next three I made even simpler images. I also used a gel pen to write the words, because I had to fit too many words on each card to attempt it with the thick towel brush. Each quotes a line from a different poem by Japanese poet Kudo Naoko. Top left is a yawning cloud. Top right is a grape dreaming of becoming the moon. Bottom middle shows scattered pieces of a broken heart waiting to be picked up. I hate these too, but I'll look at them again next week and maybe I will feel differently.

Obviously I need lots more practice. Especially practice making towel brushes. The sample art on the poster (top photo) is quite charming though. I wish I could produce something like that. We'll see.

Monday, August 22, 2016

late summer etegami

I missed my chance to send out the traditional mid-summer greeting cards (shochuu mimai) this year, but when I finally pulled myself out of the hot weather doldrums, I found I still had time to send out late-summer greeting cards (zansho mimai). These two types of summer greetings are explained in this post from three years ago. You still have time to send out your own!

The dragonfly etegami is from early July, when the dragonflies started swarming in Atsuta on the Japan Sea coast where I often go to paint. I was puzzled because it seemed far too early in the year to see dragonflies in such numbers, and I still don't have an explanation for it. The accompanying words say "It's far too early for dragonflies, isn't it?" The background colors represent the sunset because dragonflies are often associated with sunsets in Japanese children's songs, and Atsuta is particularly famous for its sunsets.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

keep those teabags

I love browsing the tea bag art I find on Pinterest, and have long fantasized about repurposing used teabags for etegami use. We etegami artists often play around with whatever paper product is at hand when inspiration strikes --- coffee filters, paper dinner napkins, paper cups, etc (as long as it's mailable)--- so why not used teabags?

But what I really like about used teabags is the tea stains on the paper. I haven't gotten as far as actually painting on teabags, but for some time now, I have been emptying out the used leaves, then drying, cutting, and flattening the bags for future use. My first experiment has been to recycle old etegami by pasting them over with these small sheets of tea-stained teabags . It gives them a vintage-style look, don't you think? Well, maybe not, but this is just the beginning, so bear with me. If you are already into teabag art, I'd love to know what you are creating.

The stained fold-lines of the teabags makes this look like a window frame.

The hawk is my husband's first attempt at etegami! I added the words and the teabags. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

the misanthropic fox

As soon as the Etegami workshop was over for the day, and I was the only one left in the house, a fox strolled along the top of the fence just outside my studio window. #Atsuta series. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

sand dollar etegami

the big sand dollars are as big as my hand with my fingers spread out
I found these sand dollars at a souvenir shop on an island off America's east coast more than twenty-five years ago. That was before I became bitten by the etegami bug, and at the time, I didn't really know what I wanted them for. But when they reappeared during a recent decluttering frenzy, it was as plain as plain can be that they (especially the huge ones) were canvases begging to be painted on. Part of me resisted adding something to an already exquisite product of nature, but I hoped that etegami-style embellishment would suit this particular canvas-- if applied with a light hand.

The porosity of the shell made it a challenging surface for my etegami paints, but the results did not disappoint me. 

the results did not disappoint me
I made the interesting discovery that none of my Hokkaido-based etegami colleagues had ever seen or heard of a sand dollar before. They are related to the spherical sea urchins, a lip-smacking delicacy that Hokkaido has in abundance, but these flat relatives are apparently unknown in northern Japan. 

So, we searched our nearest seashore for other shells that might work as etegami canvases, and ended up collecting armloads of all kinds of sea shells (mostly chipped or broken), smooth and not-so-smooth stones, and some interesting driftwood. Scallop shells look the most promising, to tell the truth-- big enough to paint on, and flat enough to slip into an envelope. Scallops also happen to be one of the most popular and plentiful products of Hokkaido's sea-farming industry, so there is no shortage of scallop shells. I think I'll ask my local fish market to save me some, and see where that leads. Stay tuned!

at my studio in Atsuta on the Japan Sea coast

Monday, June 13, 2016

busy on the inside

I remember a little boy who lay on his bed staring at the ceiling for hours and hours of each day, cheerfully deaf to threats and pleas from his frustrated mother who felt he should be doing his chores, his homework, or getting exercise outside. Fortunately, he had a wise older sister who assured their mother that staring at the ceiling was important for developing a creative mind. So the mother gave up her threats (for the most part).

The boy eventually grew up and left home. Facing numerous crises, both physical and mental, he showed remarkable resilience, and finally one day he received that piece of paper that opened the door to the next stage of his dream to be what he had wanted to be ever since he was three years old: A scientist. Actually, he grew up to be a physicist who loves to make art. His mother has a great respect for ceiling-gazing now, and looks forward to teaching that skill to her grandchildren... if she ever has any. 

I  made this etegami to celebrate the boy's doctoral hooding ceremony. Except that his version has a diploma in it. (name hidden for his privacy). Prints of the non-diploma version can be ordered from my RedBubble shop.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

children's day once again

Kodomo no hi (Children's Day festival) is celebrated in Japan each year on May 5. There are many, many traditions associated with this holiday, the most popular probably being the colorful and picturesque koinobori (carp-shaped windsocks). These magnificent windsocks are flown from flag poles in backyards and fields, or ropes stretched across rivers, to symbolize the strength and bravery of carps swimming against the current.  I can't count how many versions of koinobori I have painted over the decades, and they continue to fascinate me as a subject for etegami.

This year, however, I recycled an old etegami I had painted of kashiwa mochi, a confection traditionally associated with this holiday. Kashiwa mochi are dumplings made of pounded rice, stuffed with sweet bean paste and wrapped in an oak leaf.  In Japan, oak trees are seen as a symbol of the prosperity of one’s descendants. The leaves are not edible, but they transfer a nice earthy fragrance to the mochi.

When I say I recycled one of my old etegami, I mean that I cut up this old, slightly faded etegami, then glued a part of it to a card I had cut out of a shopping bag from a famous traditional Japanese sweets shop. I had been saving the bag for just such a purpose.

The words, which I added with a white gel pen, translate roughly to "While my children go forth into the world and battle dragons, I will stay at home and eat kashiwa mochi." I tried, at one level, to express my pride in my children, and on another level, my relief in knowing that my part in preparing them for the world was mostly successful. I can relax now and enjoy my tea and dumplings.

Monday, April 25, 2016

fun with frames

Usually I approve of the simplest of frames for displaying etegami. Paper board covered in washi, with elastic stretched across the four corners to hold the etegami in place. Or maybe a very simple woven bamboo frame (flattish bamboo baskets make great etegami frames).

But sometimes I decorate store-bought wood frames, like the one in the photo at the top, especially when I have a specific etegami in mind. All I did was draw cat paws on the white frame with a permanent black marker. Then I recycled an old-ish but well-loved cat etegami to fit the frame's small-ish 9cm x 9cm dimensions.

Other times, I decorate with a season or mood in mind, trusting that the resulting frames will work with etegami that I have yet to create. I decorated the two box frames in the second photo by affixing shapes cut from hand-dyed washi using store-bought hole punchers.

Do you make original frames to go with your original art? If so, maybe you wouldn't mind sharing some of your favorite techniques and materials with me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

flower salad

I try to get the Etegami Fun Club involved in the Flower City Fukushima Etegami Contest every year. We've produced at least two award-winners so far, although I do recognize that the Japanese judges probably give our entries special consideration because of the novelty of submissions from "foreign lands."

But the Etegami Fun Club is much larger now than it was a few years ago, and this year, members from Italy, France, Canada, the US, Poland, Belarus, (and more) came up with an unprecedented number of submissions. So many, in fact, that submissions from foreigners may soon become so blasé that it will be much more difficult to impress the judges. That, of course, is a good thing. It's further proof that years of effort to spread interest in and passion about the art of etegami has produced results.

The two etegami shown here are from my on-going Flower Salad series. The one at the top is my submission to this year's Flower City Fukushima call. It says "Let's eat flower salad and become beautiful." In Japanese, the word for "beautiful" (kirei) can also mean "clean, pure, pristine" much like the English word when used in a sentence like "What a beautiful day it is!" It is more than physical beauty; it can refer to the spirit or character and, most definitely, the heart. 

Monday, April 11, 2016


One of our Etegami Fun Club members, Kasia from Poland, suggested mailboxes (for sending letters) and letter boxes (for receiving letters) as our group theme for April. What immediately came to my mind was a collage series I did years years and years ago when I was still active in the international mailart community. I had combined vintage Japanese stamps with photos of the kind of mailbox that was common in Japan when I was a child. 

I thought of submitting one of the original series, but when I looked through my digital records, they felt much too cluttered for my current tastes. So I did a similar one using fewer postage stamps, hand-written words, and a properly "wiggly" hand-painted mailbox. I couldn't motivate myself to paint the postage stamps, as I have plenty of real used stamps that I'm always looking for a way to use in my art. 

Speaking of postage stamp art, I am a big fan of Jackie Long's "Stamp People" series and hope to do something like that with Japanese stamps one of these days.  I am the lucky recipient of several of Jacki's collage cards.

By the way, I did today's etegami collage in my "Life Between Cultures" etegami journal so that I could also post it on the Artist's Journal Workshop group page on Facebook.