Friday, February 19, 2010

dried persimmons

Winter is not kind. At least not in northern Japan. Not to those of us with weary bones and rusty joints. But winter is the season for dried persimmons, and that makes up for a lot. I draw persimmons throughout the year. I draw them when they're green. I draw them when they're ripe. I draw them whole. I draw them halved. I draw them sliced. And in the winter I draw dried persimmons, which is a whole 'nuther challenge. I got the faded color and wrinkled texture of these dried persimmons just right, only to "ruin" the balance of the piece when I added the words with my ink brush. So I cut the persimmons out of the card, and pasted them onto a yellowed, brittle page from a very old book of Japanese singing poems (shigin). Finally, I glued a printed version of the words into the remaining bit of open space. I'm afraid the background gives the piece a busy feel that is contrary to traditional etegami. But the combination of words, wrinkled persimmons, and the page of shigin poetry are meant to evoke an image of graceful aging, rich in flavor and culture.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

playing with food

I confess. I've been playing with my food. It occurred to me that I could do more than draw food for my food-themed mail art series. I could use the food itself for drawing. So instead of sumi, I experimented using coffee for ink. Ordinary-strength coffee wasn't dark enough, so I dissolved some long-expired coffee granules with a bit of water to get the desired density. After using this "ink" to make the outlines of various images, I watered it down to use as I would gansai paint, for coloring inside the lines. What resulted were etegami with the feel of sepia photographs. Kind of retro. I drew the coffee bean etegami with a bamboo quill-pen on a brown-tinged card (hence the blotches). The character in the upper right corner is the character for bean. I drew the old-fashioned coffee grinder with an ink brush on a white card and used the diluted coffee to color within the lines. I obviously need more practice, but I feel like I'm on to something. And the room sure smells good. ;D

Thursday, February 4, 2010

let's talk paper

Traditional etegami is drawn on washi postcards. Many different brands and types of these cards are available throughout Japan. I have a favorite brand that I've never found in stores, but which I order through a friend who has connections. Many of you have asked how to get hold of washi cards. Not having the faintest idea what is available overseas, I sent samples of various brands to friends in Europe and the United States, asking them to check with art supply stores to determine whether similar paper can be purchased there, and what it is called. So far, nothing like what I use has been found. Furthermore, according to Linda from St.Louis, in America the word washi is commonly used for colored origami paper that is quite unlike what we use for etegami, so asking for the paper by that name isn't much use.

Then I realized that not having the traditional tools and paper should not be an obstacle to pursuing etegami. The main thing is to try many different types of paper and learn how they responds to various inks. When you find something that appeals to you, keep experimenting with it till you are completely familiar with its characteristics and you can produce the kinds of images you want. Linda thinks watercolor paper is not a bad alternative, and she felt that 2-ply 100% rag had something like the absorptive quality of the card stock I use. I gave the paper that Linda sent me a try and found it did not respond the way my usual cards do, but it was similar to some other types of etegami cards I've seen.

I've attached photos which show the contrast between the brand of washi cards I usually use, and the high-quality 2-ply 100% rag card stock that Linda sent me. The image of the single eggplant is one I drew many years ago on my favorite washi paper. The image of the two eggplants is one I drew recently on the paper Linda sent me. When I apply paint to my usual paper, the color spreads horizontally, and I just lay (not stroke) the brush on the paper for as long as I want the ink to spread. This is a skill that took me a long time to master. With the new paper, the color will go only where I stroke the paint brush, and not beyond. This makes it a bit harder to make two different colors blend naturally together where they meet. And though I used the exact same gansai paint for both cards, I had to lay layer upon layer to get an equivalent intensity of color on the American paper.

I'm not at all an expert on paper and ink, and have no idea what makes them different from each other. I just jump in and experiment until I find what I like. There is a great variety of cards sold in Japan that are labeled for etegami use, but which have very different qualities from one another. So no matter where you live, it may take a while to find the one that feel "right" to you. Good hunting!