Recently, L.W.A. member and epistolary educator, Cole Imperi, sent us an article on "etegami". It's a wonderful form of mail art from Japan that you might not be familiar with. Cole wrote this fantastic article that we are thrilled to share with you. You can read more informational mail articles by Cole here and here and she's also teaching a calligraphy class in Cinncinnati if you are so inclined.
Here’s a new word for you: Etegami. If you’re into mail, you’ll definitely be into this word. If you’re into mail art, this will be a word you’ll love as well. Etegami (say it eh-teh-gah-mee) is a Japanese word that translates, basically, to picture letter. (E = picture) (tegami = letter) An etegami is a postcard that you draw a simple picture on with maybe a color or two, pair that with some simple words, put your signature on it and pop it in the mail. It’s not an etegami until you mail it!
What makes it special, much like a letter, is that you are making the etegami for a specific person and the illustration and words are chosen just for them. Let’s say I want to send an etegami to the LWA. A simple item I could illustrate that comes to mind is a snail, right? So, I’d maybe illustrate a snail and write the words “Snail Mail” on there too. How personal is that? Sending snail mail, literally and, well, literally, to the LWA.
The thing about etegami is that it’s not supposed to be perfect. Your lines should be a little wobbly; the beauty comes from the imperfection. It comes from thinking about someone and sitting down to create something for them; not from running through drafts and drawing multiples until you ‘get one right.’ It’s just like writing letters. When I write a letter, I don’t compose several drafts, I just sit down to write it. If I have to scratch a word out or if I don’t have the most elegant transitions between paragraphs: so be it. This is correspondence.
Etegami is also traditionally signed with a stamp of what’s called a ‘hanko’ which is basically a stamp that is used in place of your written signature. Most stamp in red ink or a red paste. My hankos are carved from soapstone, but you can also use the tip of an eraser or carve your own from just about anything.
The thing about etegami is this: there’s no wrong way to do it. What I find helps is to know what the traditional rules are so you then know how to break them properly. :) Some etegami artists use things like cardboard or wood for their postscards instead of the traditional paper. This is absolutely OK, as is anything else you might come up with.
What you should know about the postcard paper that is traditionally used is that it has a sizing applied to it that allows ink to spread out rather than sink in. See, the spreading out of the ink is what makes for a beautiful effect. The Japanese have this concept called Wabi Sabi which is basically, kind of like beauty in imperfection. This is what etegami is all about.
If you happen to be American, or by chance possess a deep-seated desire to strive for perfection, etegami would be a good dose of wabi sabi for you. It’s not about being perfect, it’s not about drafting something multiple times until it is ‘right’. It’s about thinking of a person you care about and creating something for them. It’s about mail!
Here are some etegami resources:
Debbie basically brought etegami to the USA and other countries via her blog and this is the person who I learned from when I started out with this artform about 3 years ago.
- Her Blog: http://etegamibydosankodebbie.blogspot.com/
- Her Mailart Gallery: http://mailartgallery.blogspot.com/
I’ve written about some of my etegami projects and those might be interesting for you to look at.
- Here’s a radish series I did, and mailed them all out too: http://simplicityembellished.com/review-kuretake-little-red-gift-set/
- Bee Etegami: http://simplicityembellished.com/busy-bee-etegami/
- Holiday Etegami: http://simplicityembellished.com/christmas-etegami/
And there’s a very active etegami-sharing group on Facebook that might interest you:https://www.facebook.com/groups/48598270572/
Thanks for the awesome article, Cole! I hope this is something that members will enjoy giving a try.