Postcard Sketching

 by Russell Stutler 

Postcard sketch done of an old shrine in my neighborhood
For several years there has been a postcard sketching boom here in Japan. 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.

This has got to be the ultimate portable sketching set up, even more portable than a Moleskine sketchbook since you only need to take a few blank postcards with you rather than an entire book.

Hip pocket sketch hunters ought to embrace postcard sketching since even a pocket Moleskine is like a heavy unsightly brick in the back pocket of your jeans that will eventually wear holes at the corners while a small folder with blank postcards will be only as thick as you determine.

A postcard is slightly larger than a Moleskine, which gives you a slight bit more drawing surface while at the same time enhancing portability. Suddenly a lot of people in Japan have found an escape through sketching thanks to this small format.

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. At least one newspaper has color pages every Sunday filled with postcard sketches sent in by readers.

Postcard sketch done of a businessman on his break at a coffee shop
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.

Several manufacturers outside of Japan also produce postcard size sketch and watercolor paper, so it is available if you do a little searching.

I find postcard sketching very convenient when I can't bring any equipment with me. The sketches on this page were done on postcard size watercolor paper.

Surprisingly this boom has not spread to the west, and I have not been able to find any books in English dedicated to postcard sketching. When I do a web search for postcard sketching I end up finding stuff written by me! It's probably just a matter of time until postcard sketching takes off in the west; some great ideas which have become part of life in Japan have taken years to catch on elsewhere.

Although it might cramp your style if you are accustomed to sketching in large sketchbooks, 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.

Postcard sketch done in an empty basement coffee shop on a rainy afternoon
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.

Once you take up postcard sketching you will discover a whole new world of supplies, an amazing variety of postcard sized folders and binders and pre-cut mats and frames, and other ways to collect and display postcards.

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

Granted, one benefit of carrying a sketchbook such as a Moleskine is the praise you can get when you show your half finished book to others. You can still enjoy this benefit by keeping a few samples of your recent best work with your blank postcards.

It is interesting to note that in Japan the majority of postcard sketches are drawn with 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. This is probably because most of the books on postcard sketching encourage it. Of course, there is no natural tie between the postcard format and traditional Japanese art conventions.

Maybe you should give postcard sketching sketching a try. It might result in more sketching opportunities in your life.

This article was taken from various articles which appear in the Sketchbook of Russell Stutler which were combined and edited.