More about postcard sketching (autumn, 2005)

As I have already mentioned on page 21, there has been a postcard sketching boom in Japan for several years. Here they usually call it "hagaki-e" or "e-tegami." Postcards are a big part of Japanese culture, especially in mid-summer, and at the New Year where they are the cultural equivalent of Christmas cards in the west.

This postcard sketch was done on a train platform on a rainy day. The trains came every 2 minutes, so these were basically two minute poses. (brush, pen and watercolor)

The advent of the waterbrush has contributed greatly to the boom since it is all so portable now. A small watercolor set, one waterbrush, a few blank postcards and some pocket tissues, will all fit in your pocket.

High quality blank watercolor postcards are available in most art stores in Japan. There are dozens of books (in Japanese) on the subject, and many Japanese artists draw on postcards exclusively. These artists even send their postcard sketches in the mail. The newspapers have color pages every Sunday filled with postcard sketches sent in by readers.

Another quick sketch from the train platform

Surprisingly this boom has not spread to the west. There are apparently no books in English dedicated to this. It's probably just a matter of time; some great ideas which have become part of life in Japan have taken years to catch on in the west.

Although it might cramp your style, postcard sketching does have its advantages. I've already mentioned portability. There is also the time factor. You can finish an entire sketch very quickly, which means you may be encouraged to sketch more often, and in more situations. If you have a limited reserve of patience or "sketch energy" you can finish a sketch -- or several sketches -- before you get bored or tired.

A handful of finished small sketches will give you more confidence than a larger sketchbook full of half finished or rushed-through sketches. Also, when you do screw up a sketch (and who doesn't?) it won't be so discouraging since the time and money investment wasn't much.

This one was done at an athletic meet at my children's school.

You can fill one of those postcard binders with your better sketches and proudly show them to others.

In Japan it is interesting to note that the majority of postcard sketches are drawn with stone ground sumi ink and bamboo brushes in the traditional Japanese "sumi-e" or "sui-boku" style along with watercolor, often the traditional Japanese "gansai" pigment type. Of course, there is no natural tie between the postcard format and traditional Japanese art conventions.

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