Saturday, December 26, 2015

orthodox etegami (1) : the blank background

Tomato etegami by my good friend Youko Ogawa

It has often been observed that people who take up the art of Etegami after having mastered other forms of visual arts have a harder time producing orthodox etegami than the absolute beginner. And though one of the characteristics of Etegami is said to be its lack of rules (compared to other traditional Japanese arts), it sure doesn't seem that way to the western artist. One of the "not-a-rule-but-still..." traditions of orthodox etegami is the blank background.

Take a look at the works posted on the Japan Etegami Society website. If the page appears correctly on your screen, you will see links (near the bottom of the page) to the month-by-month archives of etegami selected from among the many submitted by JES members every year. A few of these submissions are elegantly rendered in the style of sumi-e, but the majority are somewhat awkward representations of their subjects-- in other words, Etegami at its Best! None of the images have shadows. The background is blank in every one.

The second photo I posted above is a page from the September 2012 issue of Gekkan Etegami (the Japanese Etegami Society's official magazine) which gives samples of what the JES considers exemplary etegami. Most of them are awkwardly charming, and none have any background shadows. By coincidence, I had hosted a global etegami call on the subject of tomatoes just two years earlier, in 2010. After the online exhibit came to an end, I showed the works to the members of the Etegami group I meet with every month. Like me, these Japanese ladies have been painting etegami for decades, and I wondered how they would respond to these submissions. Their comments were revealing.

While they were genuinely delighted with the artwork, and even more thrilled that interest in etegami had started spreading beyond the borders of Japan, they struggled with the question of whether the works qualified as etegami at all. "As beautiful as it is, the shadow on this one disqualifies it from being etegami," said the most experienced member of our group, pointing at the purple shadowing underneath a tomato. "It's a still life painting rather than an etegami."

They had some other intriguing responses as well. Please read the complete comments at this blog post and share your thoughts with me.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

today's eyeball

The literal translation of the Japanese expression kyou no medama is "today's eyeball." Variations include "the eyeball of the menu," or "the eyeball of the festival," or "the eyeball of the event." It refers to a particular thing of special interest or value that is meant to attract customers or participants within a larger context-- the keynote speaker at a conference, a popular season-only item on a restaurant menu, and so on.

The silly series of etegami posted here was inspired by this expression. The wordplay going on would be clear to any Japanese speaker. A fried egg ("sunny side up" as we say in English) is called a "fried eyeball." And the eyeball creature bathing in the cracked rice bowl is Daddy Eyeball, a popular and very familiar character from the Japanese manga series Gegege no Kitaro by the late Shigeru Mizuki. At the top right is a bunch of fresh-caught fish with bulging eyes, and at the bottom right is a pair of toy pop-out eyeball glasses. I may add a few more to the series if I ever get unbearably bored with nothing better to do.  Maybe you can help me by suggesting more eyeball wordplay.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

happy collaboration

Fumiko Koga is a dear friend I know through etegami exchange, but whose talents and curiosity are most brilliantly expressed in cut-paper art cards and paper crafts. (Do a search for Fumiko on my mailart gallery blog to see many, many samples of her work.)

A couple days ago, she sent me four pieces of origami paper folded into narrow triangles, along with a diagram showing how to insert the points of those triangles into one another to form a picture frame. I followed her directions, which resulted in the square frame shown above, with a tilted empty space in the middle. I filled the empty space with some origami paper of my own and decorated it with snowflakes and an etegami fox in his snowy den. Then I glued the whole thing onto a stiff board so I could hang it more easily.

I forgot to take a photo of the materials before I put the frame together, so I've attached one taken by Linda Austin, also from our etegami group, who received similar parts from Fumiko to make her own frame. Such a fun collaboration!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

etegami phone cases

I was thrilled when two customers who had recently ordered etegami smart phone cases from my RedBubble shop sent me pictures. Unless my RB customers tell me themselves, I have no way of knowing who they are. So it was gratifying to be able to thank them directly. Now I crave one of those etegami phone cases for myself...only I don't have a smart phone. Maybe I need to discuss this with Santa.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

a harvest of etegami

Considering that autumn is my favorite season in Japan, and that it provides an abundance of inspiration for etegami, I have no excuse for posting so little of my new work these past few months. So today, let me give you a peek of some of the fruit of my autumnal labor.

The top photo shows the fourth and last in the series of seasonal recipe sets I was asked to create this year for the bilingual newspaper, The Japan Times- ST. The series began with a set of four lily bulb (yurine) recipes published in January; continued with the edible wild vegetable (sansai) set in April and the pickled plum (umeboshi) set in July; and ended in October with the persimmon (kaki) set. Each set stretched my meager artistic talent and taught me a lot about problem-solving. I received some often-encouraging, always-stimulating feedback from readers and newspaper staff. It was a wonderful job.

Half-way through the year, I came to realize I was not going to find the time to create a new desk calendar for 2016. Once I accepted that fact instead of fighting it, I felt lighter and happier. And guess what? At the end of September, everything suddenly fell into place, and ideas that had been percolating in the back of my subconscious allowed me to capture and express them in etegami. 

Combined with a few works from my archives, I ended up with two new desk calendars. No doggies or kitties-- or even barnyard animals-- this year. My theme this year is impactful quotes from the Bible. One calendar is a collection of all Japanese etegami, the other is all English. And though the theme is the same for both, the images are completely different.  They will not be listed on Etsy except by private reservation. Contact me by email, Etsy message, Twitter, Facebook message, or whatever, for a reserved listing.

I was also kept busy this year with more than the usual number of custom orders, a trend that may take over the bulk of my work next year. The final photo is of a very special custom order, a project of which I was honored and moved to be a part. The Japanese words say "Strength and Courage." And that's about all I am free to tell you for now.

Monday, October 5, 2015

sneezing iguana

Last month I googled "how many times do I have to sneeze in a row before it kills me?" I'd been sneezing so much, I was starting to suspect I'd be dead by now if it weren't for my cardiac pacemaker. But I guess that isn't so.

I did learn that the longest human sneezing spree on record is 978 days, and that iguanas sneeze more often and more productively than any other animal.

So today I became inspired to paint  a sneezing iguana. (I know I know, it looks more like it's singing opera.) Yes, I am still sneezing. But not everyday, and not all day. Must be the change of seasons. Recently acquired allergies. Dry air. Or maybe I'm part iguana.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

carrots by any other name

I recently made a new friend by overcoming my natural desire to fade into the woodwork, and instead, reaching out to someone who looked like she felt even more out of place than I did.

Yesterday she brought over a huge pitcher full of freshly-made carrot juice, the tastiest carrot juice I have ever, ever had. I've always liked carrots, but I never loved carrots until yesterday. To celebrate this life event, I made some carrot etegami.

The card at the top says "Mr.Carrot, I had underestimated you." I'm sending this one to my new friend. I have no doubt that she will pick up on the double meaning-- a reference to my happy surprise in our new friendship.

The second card says: We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. (I Thessalonians 5:6)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

calling earth

I find that I need a break from the internet (specifically social networking sites) more and more often these days, and the string of September holidays called Silver Week has given me another excuse to go offline. People can still call or text me... unless I lose my stone-age cell phone of course. In which case there's always the good ol' postal service. I've said it many times, and I'll say it again: I sure do love the Japan Postal Service. Now that's a civilized way to stay in touch.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

a lesson from the seagulls

August was a month of large and small tribulations, and I'm not sad to see it end. The very least of these, and the only one that is slightly funny, inspired a short series of etegami at a time when my desire to paint had completely dried up.

I've been spending a lot of time at a small house on the northwestern coast of Hokkaido, where almost all the windows face the sea. I came back one day to find every one of them covered with excrement that could only have come from the droves of seagulls that glide past just inches from the house when the fishing boats are in our area.

I haven't recovered enough energy to do anything about the windows, but I sure am glad I recovered my urge to paint. Thank you, seagulls. You guys are okay.

Monday, August 3, 2015

save the date (2)

You may remember my post last fall about save the date cards --a concept that was new to me at the time. I had been asked to design a set of cards for a couple who were planning a vow-renewal ceremony (another concept that was new to me).

I knew they loved coffee, but hadn't realized the extent of that passion. As it turned out, they were rather keen for me to use a coffee theme in my design, and asked me to try to include the phrase "all you need is love & another cup of coffee."

It's been almost a year since I designed their cards. They were professionally printed and sent off a couple months ago,  and the event itself will soon take place. Now I can post the images without fear of ruining the surprise for those invited to the event. May they enjoy many, many more years of the love and commitment that led to this celebration, and I thank them for letting me play this small part in it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 illustrated recipes: set 3 (pickled plums)

I'm happy to report that the third in my series of illustrated recipes for The Japan Times ST was published in the July 24th issue. The ingredient I chose to focus on for the summer set (four recipes from appetizer to dessert) was umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums).

Umeboshi comes in more forms than you might think.  First, and most typical, is the red, wrinkly, soft umeboshi that is so sour and salty it sets your teeth on edge. It is a great accompaniment to fish with strong flavors, such as the sanma (pacific saury) in my recipe for Pacific Saury with Shiso and Umeboshi.

Lately, though, some of these umeboshi are marketed as "marinated in honey," a treatment that takes the edge off the extreme tartness and makes them suited to dessert recipes like my Umeboshi Cheesecake.

Then there is the small, crunchy umeboshi (kari-kari ume) that comes in both green and red varieties. Green is the natural color of the unripe ume fruit, and red is the outcome of pickling the ume with purple shiso (perilla) leaves. The small crunchy umeboshi are great as a snack, or when you want that crunchy texture in a refreshing summer salad like my Naga-imo and Umeboshi Salad.

There is also the pureed umeboshi that comes in small squeezable tubes, and the crumbled, freeze-dried (from puree) version that comes in small plastic bags. Umeboshi is considered to have health benefits, but it is also high in salt content, so beware of eating too many at one time. FYI, ume are not really plums at all, but a type of apricot. You can learn more about umeboshi from this Wikipedia entry.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

where the stars live

I've been spending a lot of time in Atsuta Village, on the Japan Sea coast side of Hokkaido. It's only a little more than an hour's drive from my home in Sapporo, but it's a different world. Atsuta is where the stars live. They press against my window after dark to kiss me goodnight.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

flower salad

My father-in-law is an avid hiker, bird watcher, and admirer of wildflowers. He often sends me photographs of colorful flowers to inspire my etegami.

His birthday is coming up, so I asked him if he had any special requests, or did he want to take a gamble and let me surprise him. He sent me more flower photos and then added that he wouldn't mind taking a gamble.

I did make an attempt at the straight-forward approach-- using his photos as a model for painting wildflowers in their natural setting. But mischief, that constant companion of my heart, raised its tousled head, and the next thing I knew, I was painting flowers as food. As in food for the stomach, not food for the soul.

The words in the etegami shown above say o-hanami yori hanami (preferring flower-tasting to flower-viewing), a play on the same-sounding words hanami (flower-viewing) and hanami (flower-tasting). Actually, I made up the second expression by forcing together the word for flower and the word for flavor. I just can't resist wordplay, and Japanese is the perfect language for it.

The words on the etegami shown below quote a poem by haiku master Matsuo Basho. He was reflecting on fate and the fragility of life. Only, it wasn't a horse that ate the flowers. It was yours truly.  I wonder if my father-in-law will think that his gamble paid off.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

rainy season haiku

While Hokkaido looks forward eagerly to a typically mild, sunny, fragrant, bright green, sweet-breezy June, the rest of Japan has entered-- or is about to enter-- the pre-summer rainy season called tsuyu, often translated literally as "plum rains."

The mugginess of tsuyu can be quite miserable-- one of those times of the year when I wonder out loud how anyone would choose to live anywhere other than tsuyu-less Hokkaido. (In just a few months, the Hokkaido winter will arrive with a powerful reply to that question.)

Well, anyway, I've been working on tsuyu-related etegami to encourage my friends who have to endure the rainy season. I started with a couple of etegami collages that recombine parts of previous etegami that may seem familiar to you.

Both the Japanese version and the English version quote a gently humorous haiku by Matsuo Basho: The crane's legs/have gotten shorter/in the spring rain (translated by Robert Hass). It's easy to imagine the cranes standing in the water, their long, skinny legs appearing shorter and shorter, as the level of the river, stream or lake rises higher and higher. The folded paper cranes, being legless, are kind of perfect for this haiku, don't you think?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

turnips are in season

I learned to appreciate turnips late in life. Like a lot of other things. Like puns.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

the gap in the wall

Look what arrived in the mail today! It's a work of textile art (matted but not yet framed) by Polish textile artist Bozena Wojtaszek. I've had my eye on it for a very, very long time. I first saw it on her blog The Textile Cuisine, where she showed it to her readers as a work-in-progress. Then, a week or so ago, I saw it listed on her Etsy shop and I knew that I had to have it.  

Her name for it is Old Wall, but I privately call it The Gap in the Wall, because for me it illustrates the Bible passage Ezekiel 22:30:  I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.

And. Guess.What. Bozena enclosed a bonus in the package with the Wall. A precious flowery fiber art card for framing or sending in the mail as a postcard! I am a very happy girl.

Monday, May 11, 2015

more candy box mail art

Last month I received a small box of leaf-shaped cakes from Yun, my etegami friend in France. The cakes themselves didn't last long enough to appear in the photo I posted on my received mailart blog, but if you click the link, you can see the empty box and Yun's corrugated cardboard etegami that shows what the cakes looked like.

Even empty, the little box charmed and intrigued me. I had opened it in such a way as to leave the cellophane wrapping mostly undisturbed. So not only did the box look unopened, the diamond-shaped hole appeared to have window glass in it.

I cut out a flat "tray" from corrugated cardboard that slid smoothly in and out of the box, and glued flowery chiyogami (washi craft paper) and my favorite etegami bee images onto the tray. The bees were glued to bits of thick corrugated cardboard to give them a pop-out look.  Finally I added words appropriate to the scene, and tucked the finished tray into the box. The part of the tray that you can see through the "window" has enough depth to make it seem like you're peeking into another world. I was planning to send the finished box to Yun, but I'm enjoying it so much that I think I'll keep it for a while. :)

Friday, May 8, 2015

forget the calendar

I'm not a big fan of giving gifts or sending cards just because of some date on the calendar. Mother's Day is problematic for me for various reasons. Though I had loving parents, I spent most of my childhood in school dorms, and after I reached adulthood, my mother and I mostly lived on opposite sides of the Pacific. Then she died much earlier than she should have, leaving behind far too few memories to comfort me.

Furthermore, I certainly don't want my own kids (both of whom I kept close to my side while they were growing up) to express any appreciation they might have for me just because it's "Mother's Day." Although.... if that's the only day I can get any appreciation (assuming I deserve any), I will take it gratefully.

So, back to my own mother. One of the few-but-sweet memories I have of very early childhood is of my mother singing to us kids after she had tucked us in bed. I would sing those same songs softly to myself in later childhood, and even as late as early adulthood, during lonely or desperate nights when I lived far from home among strangers in a land that was strange to me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

life in the 19th century (mail art call)

A momentous event happened in mid-19th century Japan. The Tokugawa (Edo) government, which had controlled Japan with an iron hand for 250 years, crashed and gave way to a new government brought about by the Meiji Restoration. The accompanying changes, including a new openness to western culture, must have seemed drastic and strange to the ordinary person at the time. Suddenly, choosing footwear was more complicated than it had ever been before....

I painted this as my submission to an Italy-based mail art call on the theme "Life in the 19th Century," and YOU are invited to participate too. I copied and pasted the following details from the event's Facebook page:

Artists from all over the world are invited to participate in this International Mail Art Project organised by the Faenza’s Watercolourists Association. Everyone is welcome to participate, all ages and skill levels. An exhibition of the received works will have place in Faenza, Italy, during the first days of November 2015 for the yearly St. Rocco fair of the city . All the works will be exhibited online in a special album posted in the event too and later there will be also pictures taken at the exhibition.
Theme: “Life in the XIX century” (years 1800/1899)
Size: Postcard (10 x 15 cm)
Technique: Free (watercolour, painting, drawing, collage and so on)
Rules: No jury, no fees, no return of the works, only original works, no copies. It is up to the artist to send in envelope or not, only 1 piece for each artist.
Deadline: Works must arrive by the 1st of October 2015.
Please clearly indicate name, address and email address on the back of the card.
Send your card to:

Associazione Acquerellisti Faentini
c/o Silvano Drei
Via Portisano 46
48018 Faenza (RA)

Monday, May 4, 2015

ants for lunch

Ever since a friend asked me to paint her an anteater, I've been having the greatest fun exploring the possibilities of anteater etegami. We should get together soon. I don't mind sharing my ants. Or bring your own lunch, if you prefer.

preserving a heritage with snail mail

After getting interviewed on the Postcrossing blog, I started getting messages from people all over the world who value art postcards-- and snail mail in general-- as much (or more) than I do.  Take, for example, Robert-in-Australia, retired from a career in IT and now running a soup kitchen in the slums of Manila. In our first contact, he mentioned that he has a passion for the art of traditional writing. Then he asked me "Would you like one of my letters, that captures the history of Australia, in the traditional form of writing, from the 1700s from Australia?" It sounded cool, so I said yes.

Today I found his letter in my mailbox. My first impression was that he'd recycled some previously-used paper for the envelope, as I often do. It was sealed with wax, and I opened it very carefully so I wouldn't destroy the impression in the wax. Then I realized that the writing on the paper he used for an envelope was a hand-written letter to me. It was written in what he called the Australian heritage form that was used when the convicts first arrived in Australia in 1788. These convicts would get two sheets of paper a month, but no envelope, and they had to make their own ink by boiling tree bark. Robert does all of this the same way. He went on to tell me the history of his part of the country-- Deception Bay. It was fascinating. The painted card is his delicately-rendered watercolor of Freshwater Creek, Deception Bay, where it enters the Pacific Ocean.

I'm starting to think that I don't put nearly enough time or labor into my etegami to deserve this kind of gift. But then, etegami isn't meant to be a laborious or time-consuming form of correspondence, so I guess that's okay. But how I respect the time and research and passion that some people invest in preserving our snail-mail heritages, from stamps to paper to handwriting to art. I'm feeling..... like wow.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

i cannot walk but i can fly

When I woke up this morning, there was an email from RedBubble reporting the sale of some of my etegami prints, including one that I  hadn't thought of in ages. So I clicked the link to refresh my memory, and as soon as I read the description I'd written for it, I vividly recalled the day I had painted it. The words in the description are even more true of me today than when I first wrote them.

"Various physical disabilities keep me housebound for most of the year, but thanks to postage stamps, a part of me is able to fly all over the world and visit with people who visit me back in the same way. This is how I feel about Etegami, Japan’s version of mail art. Even without a common language, my hand-painted cards speak to the recipient on my behalf. Postage stamps are my wings."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

interviewed on postcrossing

I had the honor of being interviewed by Ana Campos on the Postcrossing blog, and the even greater honor of having other postcrossers actually read the article and comment on it. I'd been a little discouraged by all the postcrossing profiles that specifically state a reluctance to receive art cards or handmade cards. In fact, so many of the names that Postcrossing "picked out of the hat" for me were anti-art-card people, that I'd started having doubts about my fittedness for the group. But I was ENORmously encouraged to find out that there are more postcrossers who like art cards-- even handmade art cards-- than I had imagined. I'm feeling all motivated again and will be picking up my pace of sending out cards. Here's the link to the interview.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

sansai recipes published

This is my third center-page feature in the Japan Times ST, and the second in a series of four-course etegami recipes sharing the same seasonal ingredient. The theme of this set is spring sansai, which includes the young leaves, shoots, and buds of several edible wild plants. You may remember that I posted a photo of the actual etegami in my March 20 post.

The word-image balance of this set is an improvement over the first set, which featured lily bulbs and was published in January. But the hand-written text still takes up more space than I like, so my goal is to simplify future layouts even more. The summer menu is due by late June, and the ingredient I've chosen for that set of recipes is umeboshi (salt-pickled ume, which are often translated plum, but are actually a kind of apricot). I do so enjoy this kind of work! (happy sigh)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

monday magic

It's a rainy Monday morning in Sapporo, and I've just finished six or seven of the ten cards I had hoped to paint today. Monday is my day to make etegami for friends (and sometimes strangers) who are sick, disabled, or elderly, and confined to their homes or hospital beds. I'm hoping someone will do the same for me when I can no longer paint. The recipients who are able to do so might send a letter or card in return, but this doesn't happen very often.

Last week I made a new, and very young friend through Postcrossing. She reached out to me by email from her sick bed and is in terrible pain-- although I didn't find this out until later. I promised to send her a "surprise" if she would first send me a hand-drawn card, even if all she could draw was a stick figure. She wrote back to say she would try, and later she told me that concentrating on making the card had helped her to forget her pain for a while. The magic of etegami.

I eagerly wait for my husband to pick up the mail on his way home from work every evening, but her card hasn't arrived yet. Soon. Maybe today! Making etegami is magical. But waiting for an etegami that you know is on its way is magical too.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

a world of dew

You can't always tell from the results, but words are the part of my etegami that matter to me the most. I finally added words to two of the chicken etegami I posted a few days ago.

I quote Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) in the etegami on the left. His life was full of severe poverty and great physical hardship, yet his haiku reveals an attachment to the world in spite of its cruelties. He wrote this particular haiku after his baby daughter died of smallpox. I took the liberty of adding a commentary to bind the haiku to my image. But I think Issa, who had a wonderful sense of humor, would have approved.

In regard to the second card, I have to say that the saying "working for chicken feed" has always amused me, all the more because it accurately describes huge blocks of my own life. This combination of words and images is intended for some very special people in my life.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

wishes and prayers and paper cranes

Of the dozens and dozens of origami (the Japanese art of paper folding) models I used to amuse myself with as a child, the only one I make time for with any regularity these days is the paper crane. This is because of what the crane symbolizes and the role of paper cranes in many aspects of Japanese life even now. Cranes can represent long life, fidelity, happiness, prosperity, health, healing and peace. They are a part of Japanese legend, and folded paper cranes are often used as charms for making wishes come true. 

Friends and family may cooperate to fold one thousand small paper cranes and string them together to celebrate happy occasions such as a wedding or the birth of a child. In this form they are called senbazuru. Senbazuru are also made for the sick, with wishes for healing; and offered to the spirits of those killed in accidents or in times of war, as a prayer for peace.

Although I don't believe paper cranes have any power to grant wishes, I am drawn to the sentiments they represent. So I fold them or I paint them, and I give them to people who understand without my saying so that I hold them in my heart and in my prayers. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

raising etegami chickens

My sister and her husband have been building an earthship in rural Colorado. If you've never heard of an earthship, make sure you google the word or click the link above.  Everything about their home and style of living fascinates me. Now they have started raising chickens-- one step toward a delightful collection of livestock that she dreams of raising on their property.

The chickens shown here are actually someone else's chickens, but I hope to paint hers too one of these days. This is as close as I will ever get to raising chickens myself. I'm planning to print up a bunch of these etegami before adding any words, so that I can add words later--to the prints-- in the language and sentiment suited to each recipient. The originals will eventually get mailed too, or listed on my Etsy shop.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

stamps you'll want to lick

UPPERCASE magazine comes up with jillions of interesting art projects and calls-for-submission, but rarely do the calls overlap with my limited skills and not-so-limited interests to the extent that I go beyond just thinking of participating. 

This month, however, UPPERCASE has a couple of postage-stamp-related calls on offer---and you know how much I love artistic postage stamps. So, this time, I'm not just thinking about submitting, I'm actually thinking really hard

But all I have so far is a vague idea that celebrates the 2014 UNESCO decision to register traditional Japanese cuisine as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. Oops, I remembered to write in the country name, but I forgot to include a denomination (value) for the stamps..... Hmm, must add it later or do it over.

The call description says:
Design or Illustrate your ideal postage stamp! What would be the perfect topic? What style? Typographic or illustrative? Vintage-inspired or modern? What country (real or imagined)?

Whether I end up submitting work or not, it will be very cool to see what other people create for this call. If you'd like to submit a design of your own, read the submission details (size, deadline, how to submit, etc) at this link

PS: don't let my photo confuse you; submit your stamp design in the correct dimensions and without perforations.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

brain food

My last etegami project left me so drained, I've been having trouble concentrating on the next one.  So I decided to have fish for lunch. Welllll, didn't your mother teach you that fish is brain food?

I googled it to make sure, and my wise mother's teaching was confirmed. Actually, I eat fish almost every day anyway-- but of course, I live in Japan, and we know a thing or two about good fish.

Anyway, after my brain food lunch I got inspired to make some brain food mail art. Here's another set for my on-going candy box mail art series. Let me know if you'd like one.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

2015 illustrated recipes: set 2 (edible wild plants)

I've mentioned before that I was asked by the Japan Times ST to create 4 sets of illustrated recipes this year-- one for each season. For a while I was afraid I wasn't going to make the April 1 deadline for the spring set. But I find that-- for better or for worse-- deadlines hold a kind of magical power over me.

Somehow I was able to draw on hidden reserves of energy, and I managed to finish these with time to spare. I'm scared to examine them too closely lest I find new reasons to start all over from the beginning. (I do that a lot... A whole lot.)

Each recipe features what the Japanese call sansai --wild edible plants, especially those that signal the end of winter and the beginning of spring. In this case, the fiddlehead ferns, field horsetails, wild mint, butterbur, dandelions, wild mitsuba, mugwort, and even the leaves of the yaezakura cherry tree that grow in my very neglected back yard. They serve as my excuse when the neighbors wonder out loud if I ever plan to "do anything with that jungle."

The "jungle" is unclaimed by dogs or cats, untouched by either artificial fertilizer or week killer, partially-enclosed by a wall and not particularly close to heavily-trafficked roads. So it's quite safe to eat the edible weeds that grow there-- in moderation. Besides, it wouldn't be right to greet a Japanese spring without adding sansai to the menu. It just wouldn't.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

the games of childhood

I had noticed the first photo in the January issue of Gekkan Etegami (a monthly magazine published by the Japan Etegami Society), but it wasn't until I saw the February and March issues that I realized the magazine was doing a monthly serial featuring etegami by the artist known as "Grandma Chieko" (Chieko Matsuo).

These etegami are part of a collection that was published in 2004 under the title Osana Asobi (the games of childhood). The title refers to Matsuo's own childhood in rural Nagano prefecture, and the games are ones that most children today-- glued as they are to their electronic gadgets-- have probably never played.

The etegami in the three photos shown here depict indoor games played during the long, cold winters of northern Japan. Photo#1 depicts Fukuwarai, which is similar in concept to Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Photo#2  depicts Mikan Hiki (fishing for tangerines). And Photo#3 depicts a scattering of toys and tools that include crayons, a paper balloon, cloth and paper dolls, o-tedama (bean bags for juggling), a paddle and shuttlecock for playing hanetsuki, colored paper for origami, and my own favorite: o-hajiki-- the flat-ish glass "marbles" used by girls. "I still have these treasures," it says on the card.

Matsuo's style is to fill the card with detail and use jillions of colors. It feels a bit cluttered compared to the style endorsed by Koike, the "father" of the modern etegami movement. But her etegami are warm and cozy, and they give me a feeling of security. It must be because she and I are both children of the Showa era. The youth of today were born in the Heisei era. I wonder what images make them feel happy and safe. Smart phones and keyboards? It's an interesting thought.

Monday, March 23, 2015

works in progress (illustrated recipes)

You may remember that I have been commissioned this year by the Japan Times ST to create four sets of illustrated recipes --one for each season. I chose to feature lily bulbs in the winter set of recipes, which was published in January.

The deadline for the spring set is fast approaching, and after having been sick and unmotivated for a couple weeks, I'm glad to say that I'm finally back at work. Here's a sneak peak at two of my works-in-progress in a 4-recipe set featuring edible wild plants (some people call them weeds!).

All the "weeds" used in this set of recipes grow wild in my back yard, which-- being far enough from heavily-traveled roads, untouched by artificial chemicals, and unclaimed by dogs or cats-- I have little reason to hesitate using as my outdoor pantry.

When completed, the two cards shown here will describe recipes for (1) Butterbur Shoot (Petasites japonicus) and Miso Dip with Toast Points, and (2) Mugwort (Artemisia princeps) Cake served with Wild Mint Tea. The other two recipes in the set will be Dandelion Salad and Soba Noodles Tossed with Lemon-Garlic Fiddlehead Ferns and Field Horsetail. I'll post those pics next week.

Do you cook with wild plants? If so, please tell me what and how. Thanks!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

more candy box mailart

When my husband thinks that I need cheering up, he gets me a box of these chocolates. They're cheap,  readily available at super markets and convenience stores, and they are delicious! One of the fun things about this brand is that they change their box designs frequently to celebrate the changing season or new flavors-- some of them limited-time-only flavors.

Another reason I like this brand is because of the way the box is constructed. You open it by pulling back the right edge of the box, and it can be re-closed. The bite-sized pieces of chocolate sit on a small, stiff-paper tray that can be pulled out and pushed back in. Even empty, the box is stiff enough to survive being sent through the postal system in an envelope. It is perfect material for mail art.

I filled this one with bees printed from an original etegami. I inscribed one of my favorite bee-related quotes on the inside of the flap (not visible in the photos), and glued a playful warning onto the front of the box. I gave the tray of bees a three-dimensional effect by mixing flat images and images glued onto corrugated cardboard.

The box, the printer paper, and the corrugated cardboard are all previously used materials that are reused for this purpose. I make them in English and in Japanese with lots of different themes, and may even get brave enough to make them in other languages someday for my international mail art friends.

Monday, March 2, 2015

happy doll's day

painted on a round chikuma-sen card. the quote is from Proverbs 12:4
Hinamatsuri (Doll's Day or Girl's Day) is a celebration of girlhood and marriage that is held in Japan on March 3 of each year. Families with young daughters traditionally display ornamental dolls called hina-dolls that represent the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in the traditional court dress of the Heian period. They make offerings at the shrine and pray for their daughters' health and happiness, dress the girls up in pretty kimonos, and hold tea parties for them with special treats. The hina-doll displays are usually set up in late February and taken down on March 4. Superstition says that leaving the dolls up past March 4 will ruin a girl's chances for marriage.

Today's parents and grandparents may still believe that a good marriage is key to a girl's happiness, but many of the girls themselves are growing into women with different priorities. If it comes to a choice, today's young Japanese woman is more likely than ever to choose her career over marriage or raising a family. Her free time is more likely to be spent in the company of like-minded women friends rather than family or boyfriends. A term that has come into use to mean women-only parties is joshikai.

In my second etegami, I took a humorous view of Doll's Day by bringing the Empress-dolls all together for a wrap-up party on the day after the festival. Neither the Emperor-doll nor the male courtiers are present. The dolls depicted in this etegami range from the super-expensive ones that are bought at fancy department stores and meant to last for many generations, to those made by kindergarten children from colored paper and empty juice bottles. One of the dolls is made from a boiled egg. Some of the dolls have black smudges over the eyes (where the eyebrows were shaved off). This was a fashion among the aristocrats of the Heian court. The writing on the card says "joshikai" (girls' party).