Watercolor Basics: Akashiya Etegami Niso-Kyosen Paper Review and Introduction to Etegami

Akashiya Etegami Postcard Size Paper- Niso-Kyosen Paper-Pack of 10 Sheets

Purchased from Jetpens in 2015.

Japanese picture messages

Postcard sized paintings of everyday objects often taken for granted.  Intended as mail art.  Western readers may find similarities with the ACEO and artist trading card movements, comic artists may see similarity to zines.

The paper:  Akashiya Niso Kyosen etegami paper

A washi paper designed to bleed.

Before I started on this post, I'd never worked with etegami paper or had made etegami postcards.  I had been warned awhile back by a friend that it does NOT handle like regular watercolor paper, but while working on the Affordable Art Supply Series, I've had to paint on many surfaces that were not ideal for watercolor.  I figured I had this under lockdown.  So for those of you who ARE familiar with etegami, and etegami washi watercolor paper, please bear with me.

First Attempt:  ArtSnacks September Challenge

My ArtSnacks box included an alcohol marker (Kurecolor) and a watercolor marker (Kuretake/Zig Clean Color Real Brush) in two non complimentary colors (dark pink and burnt umber), so I decided to supplement my anemic ArtSnack with some Radiant watercolors, as I have some tutorials coming up for those watercolors in the future.  I also figured since I had to provide my own painting surface, I might as well give the Akashiya Etegami paper a try, as I hadn't used it before.

My Thoughts During the Field Test:

This paper has a weird, super soft, cottony texture, sorta like drawing on sheets.  It seems to handle graphite and ink decently well so far, but the real test will come when I try to erase the graphite.

Does not like erasing.

Markers bleed out all over the place, and using a blender on them makes it so much worse. 

Watercolor also bleeds out, difficult to control.  This paper is probably not designed to handle multiple layers of watercolor, and feels a bit like painting on toilet paper.  It handles the same way the Shinzen did after I wrecked its surface with masking fluid- could that be the cotton content?

Does not handle anything like traditional watercolor paper- it really is like painting on toilet paper or a tee shirt- colors bleed uncontrollably, first attempt is just generally a hot mess.

I was so disappointed with my end result, that I decided to redo my ArtSnack demonstration.

Top:  Zig Clean Color Real Brush+ Radiant Watercolors on Fluid 100 watercolor paper. 
Bottom:  Zig Clean Color Real Brush+Radiant Watercolors on Akashiya Etegami paper

As you can see, Akashiya Niso-Kyosen etegami paper absolutely does not handle anything like Western watercolor papers.

So it was at this point that, frustrated by having a paper defeat me, I decided to get smart and do my research.  I should have done this from the start, but I didn't realize how differently etegami paper would handle from regular watercolor paper.  After doing some research, I decided to try again with the etegami paper.

There are multiple types of etegami papers- hongasen, gasen, 3 layer gasen, niso-kyosen, suisai.  I have no idea how the other papers handle, as I've never tested them.  Niso-kyosen reminds me a bit of trying to do Western style watercolor on sumi paper.

I purchased the Niso-Kyosen paper from Jetpens about a year ago, and at the time, the site offered very little insight into how the paper should be handled, and no outside links.  There were also no reviews.  Now there's still very little insight- the most we get is "Paper has a blur degree of 5 and aborbs water beautifully.  It is great paper for painting as well as calligraphy and black and white drawings..."Blur" refers to the blending capability of the paper, or its degree of absorbency that allows color to blur on the paper..."  The two reviews posted aren't much help either-one says the paper is fantastic for ink painting, the other says it's great for inserts, and Jetpens categorizes this paper in their Watercolor Painting category, all of which contribute to confusion as to how etegami paper should be handled.

For more useful links and resources, please check my Outside Resources and Inspiration sections below.

Second Attempt:  Traditional Etegami with Kuretake Tambi Gansai watercolors and Sumi brushes.

Sketched with pencil, did not ink before painting.  Kept sketch loose and light, did not erase sketch, erasing seems to ruin paper surface.

My Thoughts While Painting

More water used, the more it bleeds- so delicate washes aren't really an option unless you plan well and have a little luck.  Loose sketches were better- something gestural.  Paper takes awhile to dry out, and bleeds a LOT until it's dry (the above mentioned blur?)  Painting works best if you work thickly with the gansai watercolor- so think more like calligraphy than like Western watercolor.  Loose washes and glazes will not work well on this paper.

I can't seem to find a brush that suits what I'm painting- the small Yasutomo sumi brush (0) can't lay down enough paint the larger Yasutomo (guessing a 4 or larger, it's unmarked) over saturates the page and bleeds all over.  Even though I'm using the righ tools and the right paint, it STILL feels a bit like painting on toilet paper- the paper weirdly seems to reject the paint while bleeding all over the place.  The only way I can tell if it's me, the paper, or ALL etegami papers is to try others, and I may have to find a place in my budget while in San Francisco to purchase other brands- or perhaps my local K and S international market may have some?

I opted to ink at the end of the experiment, using a Pilot small brushpen that looked similar to the brushpens used in the images linked in the Inspiration section.

Third Attempt: Freehand Painting a Gourd with a Waterbrush

I painted the gourd first, freehanding it with a light orange gansai watercolor.  While that paint was still wet (etegami paper has a long open time), I added in darker oranges and greens, and the paint quickly diffused on the wet paper.  This time, I left open some white space, trying to replicate etegami watercolors I'd seen online, and I filled in the background with a contrasting blue.

Going over already wet areas with a waterbrush causes the paper to pill and damages the paper's surface, no matter how gentle you are.

Paint quickly wet into wet to take advantage of the qualities that high blur papers like the Niso-Kyosen have to offer.

You don't need to tape this paper down- it will curl a little, but not much, and will dry flat.

Once the colors dry, they're very faded out on this paper, almost chalky and muddy, but you can paint another layer if you're careful, or add details.  Make sure your brush is almost dry when applying the new paint.

The Verdict and More about Etegami

What started as a paper test turned into learning a whole new artform, and sharing what I learned with you guys.  Is painting on traditional etegami washi paper a Watercolor Basic?  Not at all.  But watercolor postcards seem to be popular anywhere there are waterbased paints or pigments and paper to paint on, and many of you may be interested in sending original works of art in the mail to loved ones.   You may find that this post on etegami sparks an interest in mail art, or creating affordable art for the masses, or just for creating quick little watercolors that don't have to be good to be precious.
Originally invented by a calligrapher, etegami may be best served by those who are familiar with sumi painting, or have a calligraphic approachto their watercolors.  It seems that etegami papers like this Akashiya Niso Kyosen are designed to bleed, and may best serve those who are trained in economy of line- a skill I sorely lack at this time.

At its heart, etegami is intended for people to share hand made artwork with another person, and this is something I can definitely get behind, even if my own etegami lacks grace.

If you're interested in etegami, you do not have to use etegami specific paper- you can use what's available.  4X6" watercolor pads like Fluid are the right size for postcards and may handle watercolor in a way you're familiar and comfortable with.

Outside Resources:
Let's Talk Paper- Dosanko Debbie
The Ikebana Shop- Etegami Workshop

Drawing Near
Etegamist- How To
The Etegamist
Etegami: Drawing with a little Message
a beginner's guide to etegami

Paper Sampler
Etegami Papers
Gansai Paints
Kuretake Etegami Starter Kit
Kuretake Gasen  Etegami Paper
Kuretake Gansai Tambi 36 colors
Kuretake Gansai Tambi 12 Colors
Pentel Aquash Waterbrushes
Blick Sumi Brushes
Yasutomo Sumi Brushes


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