Blog > Debbie's Etegami cards
I discovered the Japanese folk art of etegami through Debbie’s (aka dosankodebbie) lovely postcards. Debbie is a professional translator who lives in Hokkaido, Japan. She began making etegami cards over 10 years ago, and joined Postcrossing to share them with people all over the world, as well as to receive art cards from other creative postcrossers!
As Debbie explains on her blog, “Etegami (e= ”picture"; tegami= “letter/message”) are simple drawings accompanied by a few apt words". They are made to be mailed to one’s friends or family, and usually show an object from our everyday lives.
The illustrations appealed to me for their beauty and simplicity… but when researching the art and the philosophy behind it, I discovered there’s a lot of meaning and intention in every card. So I decided to ask Debbie a few questions about her art, and she kindly agreed to a mini-interview.
- When did you start making etegami? What drew you to this form of art?
I first began making etegami in the year 2000. I had been making my own Christmas and New Year cards since childhood, using methods such as woodblock printing and the Japanese torn-paper collage art called chigiri-e. But these methods were too labor-intensive to do every day.
I grew up in an art-loving family, but my first love has always been words. Etegami suits me perfectly because it combines images and words. The tools for etegami are relatively few and simple, and you don’t need a lot of space to set them up. I have my tools in a small box, so I can spread them out on the kitchen table or on a corner of my work desk and paint whenever I have fifteen minutes of free time in my work day. Fifteen minutes, on average, is how much time I need to make one etegami.
- Where do you find inspiration for your cards?
I can always find something seasonal to paint if I look in my refrigerator or in my garden. It can be an apple, an eggplant, a dandelion, a leaf on a tree, a sparrow, a coffee mug, or the slightly rusted kerosene tank that supplies our heating fuel. Etegami is at its best when it depicts a single object that represents the season with a few unfussy strokes and a minimum of color. Compared to most traditional Japanese art forms, it has very few rules, and the slightly awkward paintings of beginners and children are valued more than refined paintings.
- Do you have any idea how many etegami cards you’ve made so far?
Ideally every etegami that I send should be a hand-painted original, but these days my mailing list is so long that when I can’t paint enough originals, I sometimes resort to prints of my images. I go through at least 800 washi cards in one year. If you include prints, I mail about 1,000 etegami postcards every year.
- Besides postcrossers, who else do you mail your etegami cards to?
Although one of the pleasures of etegami is in the exchange, it’s even better to send etegami to people who can’t send anything back. I set aside every Monday to make etegami for people who are sick at home or in the hospital, and people who are depressed or disabled in a way that makes it difficult for them to send mail to anyone. This is especially meaningful to me because I have bad legs that keep me house-bound, and I’m so thankful that I can socialize with people through etegami.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t to gather my brushes and give it a go! :)
Thank you so much for sharing your hobby with us, Debbie! For more etegami inspiration, don’t forget to check out Debbie’s blog.