Studio Saturday: Mail Art Like You’ve Never Seen

Before you embark on your summer travel plans, I have one request: Don’t send commercial postcards. I have a much better idea—send mail art on a postcard. This type of mail art doesn’t require a lot of time, the techniques are crazy fun, and the results are awesome.

It’s called etegami, and Diana Trout explains it well in her article “Mixed-Media Etegami” in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors: “Literally translated as ‘picture letters,’ etegami are cardstock-weight rice paper cards painted with Japanese-style watercolor. Words are always added to etegami, and you can’t call it etegami until you mail it.”

This may be the best part: The focal image is usually something from nature and seasonal, and Diana says etegami is supposed to look clumsily executed, with the black outlines meant to be shaky. You had me at ‘clumsily.’ No pencil sketch, no practicing—this is meant to be of the moment, which gives this style of mail art its charm.

Let’s start with the paper. Diana recommends using etegami paper, which comes in five degrees of blurs, or absorbency—five is the highest. I found some at, and tried blurs of three and four. I also tried 300-lb. cold press watercolor paper, which can be substituted.

Below, top to bottom, are the results using three and four-blur paper, and watercolor paper, all with watercolor paint. On the watercolor sheet, the circle on the left was done with paint on dry paper; on the right, I wet the paper first with water, then added paint.

Etegami paper tests
Etegami paper and watercolor paper have different levels of absorbency; choose the one you like best to work with.

I liked the look of the number three blur, and went with that and watercolor paper for my mail art. I decided to paint my favorite seasonal fruits, cherries and peaches. I first created circles of paint on the etegami paper with a very wet bamboo brush and watercolor. I love how it wicked into the paper—so beautiful. While the paint was wet I added drops of other color: for the cherries, a little yellow and purple.

Creating circles of color for etegami mail art
This version of mail art begins with simple circles of color.

For the peaches on watercolor paper, I added spots of pink and yellow.

Etegami on watercolor paper
The peaches began as circles of orange, pink, and yellow watercolor.

I then painted in details, also using watercolor and the bamboo brush. I added stems and leaves to the cherries:

Adding depth to etegami images for mail art
Adding details to the cherries gives them depth and interest.

And the same to the peaches. What got me really excited about making etegami was using new materials in addition to new techniques. I’ve never used a bamboo brush, etegami paper, or sumi ink. So while I didn’t sketch in my design beforehand, I did try out the supplies before I started on a postcard. That goes a long way in helping you be successful, and Diana has some great tips for this in her article.

Adding details to mail art on watercolor paper
Details were added to the peaches as well, making them look more realistic.

I liked the look of the paintings so far, and I was a little reluctant to use the sumi ink. That hesitation completely disappeared once I tried it. Adding the sumi ink details completely changed everything—in a good way. Not only did the ink add depth, but it made the images stand out in such an amazing way. I also added some watercolor in complementary colors to help the fruit pop. I can’t wait to try these techniques for more mail art, and in my art journal. Here are the cherries with sumi ink:

Adding sumi ink to etegami
The addition of sumi ink completely changes the look of the images–for the better!

And the peaches:

Adding sumi ink to mail art images on watercolor paper
The sumi ink makes the images really pop.

Diana’s take on traditional etegami includes mixed media, of course, and she takes it to another level by adding ephemera like postage stamps, ephemera, and washi tape. She also adds a chop stamp.  I didn’t have one, and decided to carve my own version. The simple leaf design took me all of 10 minutes, and it adds such a nice touch. Here is the finished cherries postcard:

Adding mixed media to mail art postcards
Adding ephemera and a stamp to these mail art postcards makes them truly mixed media.

And here are the peaches. Hand-written words are also an integral part of etegami; they can be done with a brush, or a brush pen (I used a Faber-Castell PITT artist pen with a brush tip.)

Adding details and ephemera to etegami
More paint was added to this mail art postcard; sumi ink is permanent when dry.

I can’t call this etegami until I pop it in the mail, so I’m off to do that. I hope the person who receives this bit of mail art loves it as much as I loved making it. I encourage you to give this a try—etegami is perfect for taking on the road, or anywhere. I’m taking my supplies with me the next time I sketch outdoors, and I can’t wait to be inspired by what I see.

Get the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors and give this mail art technique a try! Find even more ideas in these great books, videos, and downloads from Cloth Paper Scissors and North Light Books.

July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors
Get the full instructions for making etegami in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors.
No Excuses Watercolor by Gina Rossi Armfield
Let Gina Rossi Armfield show you how to get incredible results with watercolor in your art journal pages and more in her book No Excuses Watercolor.
Natural Compositions video with Staci Swider
Learn how to paint plants and flowers as they appear in nature with the video Natural Compositions with Staci Swider.
Art Lessons Volume 6: Outside In by Jenny Cochran Lee
In Art Lessons Volume 6: Outside In, Jenny Cochran Lee shows you how to use nature as inspiration for vibrant mixed-media art.


Blog, Mixed-Media Painting Techniques, Mixed-Media Techniques


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