learning etegami

Here I summarize some of the tools I use to learn how to do etegami. This post presents key resources that any other newbies might want to be aware of, but is not intended to be a full catalogue of materials.If you find something else to be helpful, please let me know!


I recommend joining the Etegami Fun Club on Facebook. Created by Debbie Patschke Davidson, of Dosankodebbie, the group includes folks from around the world who share their etegami on Facebook, as well as help each other with learning etegami painting.

For learning:

  • Blog posts:

The main blog I read in English for etegami is Dosankodebbie’s Etegami Notebook. The blog has been around since 2009, and in that time Debbie has written a many crucial posts that beginners will want to read. I highlight them here:

    • Intro to etegami (April 3, 2009):  “Etegami (e=”picture” tegami=”letter”) are simple drawings accompanied by a few apt words, done on a soft absorbent postcards. They are meant to be mailed off to one’s friends, not hoarded. They often depict some ordinary item from everyday life. Seasonal flowers, vegetables, and fruit are popular themes. There are very few rules on how to draw etegami. The usual tools include two brush pens (one for the black outline, one for the colored paints), small bricks of etegami paints called gansai, and sumi (india ink), but, if that is not possible, you can use whatever is available to you– even crayons. The postcards used for etegami are usually of the washi variety, soft and absorbent (often handmade), so that the ink soaks in and spreads to a certain degree. The brief message accompanying the drawing can be as simple as “Hi, I miss you.” Or it can be a quote from something like a proverb or song.”
    • The “Rules” of Etegami(April 12, 2012): This excellent post summarizes a Japanese article on etegami’s “three rules”, key tools for doing etegami, and proper posture for holding etegami brushes, especially the ink brush. She later translates the ways you would do an etegami from start to finish.
      • The key rules:  1. “It’s fine to be clumsy. It’s good to be clumsy.” 2. “Etegami is a one-shot deal; there is no underdrawing or practicing on another piece of paper before doing the actual painting.” and 3. “Unlike many other forms of traditional Japanese art, there is no “model” etegami painted by a master for you to imitate.”
      • Regarding posture, rather than holding the sumi brush as you would a pen, you hold it from the top to give the results more “you-ness.
    • Etegami tools (April 12, 2012): In the same post on the “rules” of etegami, Debbie translates the key tools:  1. blank washi card called gasenshi; 2. ink stone (same as used in Japanese calligraphy); 3. black sumi ink block, or liquid sumi ink; 4. coloring brush; 5. sumi ink brush; 6. water dish; 7. plum dish, to be used as a palette for the paints; 8. gansai paints; and 9. vermillion paste/ink for inking your stamp.
    • Etegami paper (February 10, 2010):  Debbie notes that it’s rather difficult to get the type of paper she uses even in Japan, let alone abroad. She writes that it’s not crucial you have some special paper; rather, “[t]he 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.”
    • Etegami stamp (October 19, 2009): The stamp (aka seal or chop; hanko in Japanese) is used as the artist’s mark on the etegami. In this post, Debbie details how to make your own using an exacto knife and an eraser.
    • Stamp maintenance (May 24, 2012): This post details how to protect your stamp from degradation, including storing it in a paper or cloth container. She does note that all stamps are consumable — they do not last forever.
  • Youtube Videos

These are great for seeing how etegami artists create works from start to finish. I have found these helpful in learning how to properly draw the outlines with sumi — it’s one thing to read about holding the brush from the top, and quite another thing to see someone do it.

Henry Li has a YouTube channel for his company Blue Heron Arts with links to lots of short videos on etegami, as well as Chinese brush painting.  The one where he paints a winter melon is a good start — he talks through the process and emphasizes that the point of etegami style is to emphasize the heart, not the skill, of the painter. A shorter one, if you don’t have a lot of time is his video on painting Rainier cherries.

One I particularly like though is his video on painting a durian fruit (jackfruit). In it he hits on the key point that what etegami artists do — they “summarize” the subject, they don’t aim to reflect everything. Moreover, you can practically smell the durian! That’s perhaps a good place to end my summary — I don’t aim to capture every tool out there that can help you learn etegami, just the important ones for me.

As I learn about more resources, I’ll add to this page.  Be sure to let me know of any resources you use, so I can update.  Note that the Facebook Etegami Fun Club page has member-maintained lists of some of these same resources.