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.