Saturday, March 27, 2010

let's talk quill pens

It was many, many years after I had started doing Etegami that I was introduced to bamboo quill pens. In contrast to the method we use when drawing with ink brushes-- the excruciatingly slow, long strokes that create the "living lines" so coveted in Etegami drawing-- we use the quill pen with quick, often short, strokes. They are great for drawing small, detailed subjects for which the typical ink brush is not so well suited. At the same time, they can be more unpredictable than ink brushes. You can make some fine, delicate lines with them, but it is typical of these quill pens to quite suddenly and uncontrollably release ink in a way that results in lots of blotchy areas. But this characteristic is one of the reasons I like using them. If used for the right subjects, the blotches add charm to the etegami.

The cheap quill pens, although they are called take-pen (bamboo pens), are actually carved from reeds. These have a short life span, especially if you have a habit of pressing hard against the cards like I do. I had gone through several of these reed pens when I learned that there was a more pricey quill pen that is actually carved from a strip of mature bamboo and lasts much longer than a reed pen. I've mentioned before that I've used branches, chopsticks, and even toothpicks as drawing utensils. And although I've never done it myself, it is possible to make quill pens from branches and chopsticks by using a sharp knife to shave the tips to a point and cutting a small slit as a reservoir for the ink.

In the attached photo, the two quill pens on the left (one still in its wrapper) are my new bamboo quill pens. By comparing them, you can see how they look from the outward side and the inward side. They are fairly flat-- not hollow tubes like the reed pens shown on the right. The quill pen on the far right is made from a thin, hollow reed. When it's new, it is quite firm and easy to use. But as it gets soaked in ink and weakens from the pressure of the hand wielding it, the little slit at the tip spreads out and the tip itself loses its pointyness. The pen that is second from the right is made from a thicker reed, lasts a little longer, but the tip is thick and isn't as useful for making fine lines.

The three etegami in the background of the photo show a bunch of broccoli sprouts (excellent subject for quill pens because of the details), pea pods, and pussy willows. Maybe you can see how the blotches add, rather than detract, from the drawings.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

playing with sharp objects

I find that ink brushes just don't work for some subjects. If I want to draw something with fine lines or details, a quill pen carved from bamboo or dried reed segment often does the trick. These are commercially available. But I can also make do with items lying around the house. I drew the attached etegami of white clover with a toothpick. All I did was rough up the pointy end of a toothpick a bit and dip it in a shallow dish of sumi. It doesn't hold on to much ink, so I had to dip it frequently between making brief strokes on the card. But for this particular subject, it seemed to work well. You can also use a branch or other stiff, somewhat porous object as your drawing utensil. What do you see in your home or outdoors that might work? Test it and decide if you like the effect. Let me know how your experiments turn out.

Monday, March 1, 2010

tomato etegami call & washi postcard give-away!

Send me an etegami (drawing and words) on the subject of "Tomato." In return, I will send you sample washi postcards, two of each of two different brands that I use for my own etegami. Tomatoes are not the most interesting subject to draw, since their shape and color tend to be uniform. So find yourself an oddly-shaped tomato, or one that isn't uniformly red. You might want to draw a bunch of cherry tomatoes, or one large tomato sliced. Or you might want to focus on the shape of the claw-shaped green stem leaf.

However way you want to draw it is fine, but let it have some character. Draw the imperfections too. Don't try to make it look like a photograph of the subject. And don't forget to add words. Humor is good. Thought-provoking is good. A Tomato Poem? Sure! A famous tomato quote? Sure! But the main thing is to have fun with it. These are the guidelines:

1. Any paper, any ink, any paint is acceptable.
2. It must be standard postcard size (approx 10 cm x 15 cm/ 4 in x 6 in).
3. It must be hand-drawn.
4. It must be postmarked by April 1, 2010.

Feel free to ask questions in the comment box. I will display all the tomato etegami submissions on this page in a blog post sometime in mid-April. My postal address is on the right side of this page, in the segment about mailart calls.