Thursday, January 21, 2010

inspired by proverbs

As the number of etegami I am committed to send in any given month keeps increasing, and the time I can spare for drawing them keeps decreasing, I find that doing a series on a particular theme helps me move forward at the desired pace. I had been doing this in a vague and limited sort of way all along, but exposure to the world of international mail artists, and their frequent topical mail art "calls," has given me a new appreciation for choosing specific themes to propel my work.

Last year, a brief obsession with geta inspired me to produce several etegami illustrating sayings having to do with these traditional Japanese wooden clogs. They turned out to be quite popular with my friends in both the East and the West, so I decided I would set myself a goal to produce 150 proverbs-themed etegami in 2010, at the rate of three per week. I was a little worried that setting such a long-term goal would become burdensome and take away the spontaneous pleasure of making etegami. But no-siree, quite the contrary! It seems that everywhere I look I see things that remind me of another proverb or saying, and I can hardly wait to get it on paper.

The most effective etegami is one that represents a concept considerably larger than you might expect from a simple, close-up drawing of what is often a single item, or sometimes even a fragment of one item. The accompanying words make this possible. But the whole concept doesn't need to be-- nor should it be-- spelled out. A little indirectness is best. Like haiku, there should be empty spaces for the observer to fill in with his own imagination.

The etegami I've posted above illustrates the saying: Warau kado ni wa fuku kitaru (Good fortune comes to the home where there is laughter). The image shows a cup of tea and a partly peeled tangerine. Imagine the low table around which the family is gathered--perhaps watching a funny show on TV. Whenever someone laughs, it shakes the table and spills the tea. It is a very famous proverb, so I wrote only the first half of it at the top of the card. In the bottom right corner is the character for good fortune (fuku). What do you think? Is that too indirect?

I've posted other examples of etegami from my Japanese proverbs series on the right side of this page. If you have time and interest in turning a favorite saying of your language or culture into an etegami, let's see what you can come up with! And don't forget the new Food/Recipe- themed mailart call I posted on the right (near the top) side of the page. I'm counting on you (yes, you!) to participate. he he :p

Monday, January 11, 2010

inspired by haiku

My etegami are often accompanied by fragments of poetry. No, not my own. Poetry that other people have written. Sometimes the drawing will bring a poem to mind. Other times a poem I've read or heard will compel me to express it in etegami. This is especially true of haiku poetry, and even more true of the haiku of Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), the internationally renowned wandering poet of Japan. When I drew this closeup of a single white flower, it was his haiku on the sound of the temple bell that came to mind. Maybe the numerous yellow stamens reminded me of the knob-ended sticks that are used for hitting some kinds of gongs or temple bells. Whatever it was that went through my subconscious thoughts, the simplicity of the image and the simplicity of haiku seemed to be a perfect match. Try pairing an etegami drawing with one of your favorite haiku, or compose one of your own for the purpose.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

all kinds of tigers

While I was delighted by the number of nengajou (traditional Japanese New Year cards) I received this year, the percentage of hand-drawn cards was probably the smallest in decades, and has me puzzled. I had imagined that the ailing economy would result in an increase of hand-made cards, but apparently this does not follow. Of the three cards I've posted here, only the one in the center was done by traditional etegami method-- with sumi ink on soft washi cards. I don't know if you can tell that the sender used gold paint on this card. Gold and silver gansai paints are not included in standard gansai sets. They have to be ordered separately, and are used for special occasions such as New Year's.

The card on the right is a block print. Yes, the cards depict tigers. Not kitty cats. It seems that in these modern times, people hesitate to use ferocious images on their felicitous greeting cards. I've noticed this in other years, whether it be the year of the mouse or the year of the dragon. Images tend to be cute or humorous. The card on the left was made on a computer, but I included it because it is an original design by an elderly sculptor friend of mine. Notice the stripes hanging off the tiger's body. The accompanying words declare the sender's intent to lose weight in 2010.