Monday, December 7, 2015

ART HOLIDAY - Kyoto, Japan

What happens when you have a bunch of artists visit one of the most beautiful cities in Asia?  INSPIRATION!!

Early November I had the great fortune to accompany 12 talented artists from Australia, France and the US on an art holiday to Kyoto.  You could say it was a retreat in a sense.  As an artist who also loves to paint and photograph – I felt like a kid in a candy shop - all day, every day for one week straight!

Although I missed my family, it was a perfect getaway for an artist to be with other artists.  I was with my “Peeps”, my “tribe”.   We had fun.  Every day, we would pick a spot with the instructor and sketch the landscape.  The beauty of this is that we each saw the same scene differently.  We each focused on a different aspect of the detail.  Some highlighted many details, while others highlighted one or two.  We had a Sumi-e workshop with a local artist, Saori Yamaguchi (who happened to illustrate an edition of The Tale of Genji), and a Watercolor workshop with the master artist who was our tutor for the trip.  An accomplished artist himself, Craig Penny!

We went to several landmarks throughout Kyoto.  And even though this was my 3rd visit to this beautiful city – Most of what I saw was still new!  Many streets and alleyways have been maintained in the old Japanese style.  The architecture of the homes, the “Machiyas” with the old wood – all preserved so you really feel like you are walking in Kyoto from the past.  So many great scenes to preserve in our sketchbook pages! 

Lovely street in Gion District of Kyoto

The Kamo River gave us many painting opportunities.
(Photo credit: Barbara King)


Ginkaku-ji, (the Silver Pavilion), Philosopher’s Walk, Fushimi Shrine, the Arashiyama River, Bamboo Forest and Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) were the mainstays of our itinerary.  All along the way – the hues of Autumn peeked through the trailing colors of Summer. 

Group Photo as we enter the Silver Pavilion
Roof of the Silver Pavilion
Sand Sculpture of Mount Fuji in the Garden of the Silver Pavilion.  Mt. Fuji is known for its perfect, triangular symmetry - a dynamic, the sculptor captured.

Along the Philosopher's Walk, we found a place to set up "paint camp".

Our boat trip along the Arashimaya River gave us much to discuss in terms of the variety of autumn’s colors and compositions.  Artists look at their surrounding environment differently versus our human peers.  We don’t look at the sky and think it is blue – we look at the sky and think “hmmm, pthalo blue, ultramarine blue or hydrangea blue with a hint of cad yellow?   We don’t look at a bush and think it’s a bush…  we see a bush and we think it is a rectangle with a semicircle on top.  We look at a scene as if there is always a boxed line around it – what part of the landscape belongs on and off the canvas. 

We think about our surroundings as if we are going to draw or paint them.  ALL THE TIME!  (something that the non-artist members of my family find humorous and puzzling at the same time.)

So, when a group of artists gather, no explanations are necessary if I chose to stand in one spot and take 5 different photos of an alizarin crimson/cadmium red maple leaf contrasting with its cadmium/sap green neighbor that hadn’t succumbed to the color of Autumn.

There were quite a few bridges along the River - this one may be the subject for a future painting!

Arashimaya River Boats

The Fushimi Inari Shrine offers one visual color - that of a cadmium orange (bright orange to non-artist peeps).  The simplicity of the Torii gates as you ascend the mountain within the safety of their umbrella lends itself to a spiritual experience.  A traditional gate most commonly found at the entrance or within a Shinto shrine, the Torii gate marks the transition from the ordinary to the sacred.  The contrast of the cadmium orange against the lush green landscape of the mountain offers a soothing climb.

The outside of the Torii gate walkway - a contrast of orange and green.
On a rainy/cloudy day, this contrast lends itself to a soothing journey

I am not sure what these are called, but I loved the foreground of the round and
dark (Raw Umber) bell-shaped vessel in a stark contrast to the recti-linear shape and color
of the Torii gates in the background

We choose various viewing positions to take 80+ photos of the Golden Temple for 40 minutes as the sun slowly moved across the sky.  And we weren’t finished!

I know what you are thinking; yes, it is a Golden Temple and it is STUNNING. And most people would want to take at least 20 photos – but more than that?!  For the scientific human, it is a building covered in gold.  Gold leaf if you have a good tour-guide.

BUT! To an artist! To AN ARTIST!!! It is pure excitement as we observe several use of yellow and gold dance across the structure as the sun slowly descends into twilight. Bathing the pavilion in a worm glow that reflects perfectly in the pond below.  Capturing THAT moment when the gold of the Pavilion turns a gentle hue of cadmium orange, mirroring the sunlight that bathes it in its warmth.  we are - most literally - clapping our hands with glee... inside our heads, of course.  We would look very insane if we did it out loud.

That moment when the sunlight reflects off of the gold
almost turning it into an orange hue.

It is interesting to try this composition in black/white.
The brightness of the gold and the surrounding sunlight offered
some nice lights and darks.


Our Watercolor workshop took place in the garage of a beautifully-restored Machiya.  My first time with this medium was awkward.  I was without all the proper brushes.  Graciously, the artist allowed me to share his brushes and his palette.  Still, working with water offered different challenges versus oil.  Unlike oil painting and similar to sumi-e painting, you don’t have opportunities for many layers so you have to get your composition and drawing “just right” in the first couple layers.  I need practice with this - A LOT of practice.

(You know those artists who can sit in a courtroom and sketch portrait after portrait after portrait in under an hour? And somehow, they are always in color and capturing the expression of the testifying person?  Yes, those people...  those super-artists...  THAT isn't me. - I am in awe of them.  Forgive me for digressing).

There is much focus needed when putting water on your brush and then mixing with pigment.  And what to do when you have too much water in your brush?  No idea.  My paper was drenched.  I started over.

The Artist, Craig Penny, offering his tutelage
Enjoying the workshop with fellow artists

My first attempt at Watercolor - EVER.
Easy to do when the instructor gives you detailed instructions!

Luckily, I had brought along some Watercolor pencils – and greatly enjoyed the increased level of control over my composition.  I also loved the intensity of the pigment from the pencil versus the brush/paint which I found to be a bit weak in color and hues.

A half-finished sketch of the Kamo River
Using Watercolor Pencils

Everyone was enthusiastically attacking the Sumi-E workshop.  The sensei was kind enough to “let us explore” the many different types of paper and colors we could paint with sumi-e brushes.  The use of gold and silver pigment in sumi-E painting allows for bright and reflective composition.  The use of Space in Sumi-E automatically lends itself to a simple, but beautiful painting we were all eager to take home.  We were like kids in Dylan's Candy Store in NYC.  But polite.  'cause we're adults.  Reaching over each other to get the gold paint, or the red ink, or grabbing all the different colors scraps of Washi paper and cotton paper...  OMG, it was SO. MUCH. FUN.

Everyone having fun "playing" with ink, brushes and paper.


It is difficult to walk around Kyoto and not feel inspired to just park your stool and bring out your sketchbook.  For me, working on my drawing skills was an important goal of this trip.  Specifically, I needed to work on my observation of perspective and lights/darks in a scene.  Having the opportunity to practice on a daily basis with the coaching of a professional artist AND my artist peers was invaluable.  The experience is bonding and I am hoping to stay in touch with a few of the wonderful people I met on this trip.  

I also got an opportunity to try out a new medium, Watercolor.  I wasn’t thrilled with it – but found the use of watercolor pencils in an urban sketching format to be light and easy to carry; as well as easy to use in the field.

(There are many aspects to being an artist – just like any other profession that requires a multitude of skills in terms of observation, partnering, technical expertise, etc.  Depending on the artistic medium and style of choice, drawing with perspective, color theory, composition, figure drawing versus urban sketching…  the list goes on.)  

Although it has been a couple weeks since my "Art Retreat", the inspirational zen is still holding on!  What an amazing experience to be with like-minded people.  Brainstorming on mediums, artistic compositions, color combinations and mixed media was a lot of fun.... for me and my fellow artists.  My family?  I think at least 3 of them would have looked at me cross-eyed if I had tried to discuss the use of Washi paper in oil with the application of acrylic clear gel or linseed oil medium.  HA!  Don't worry, I won't subject them to such torture - I have my artist peeps to do that!

As I come to the end of this blog, allow me to leave you with what I hope are inspirational images that give you pause to daydream...and to make time for what you love.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine Torii Gates - some of them. There's
about 1,000 of these that wind up the mountain. They say the
land/ mountain can accommodate 10,000!

The Kiyomizu-dera Temple at Sunset.  Brilliant hues of orange,
gold and yellow!

Another view of the Kiyomizu-dera Temple

The Japanese bridge is a main fixture in Gardens in Japan.
Although they can take on many forms in terms of materials,
the basic shape of the bridge seems to be unique and consistent.

Rickshaws awaiting customers outside the Bamboo Forest.
I do think I will be playing with this composition in one medium or another!
Checking out an Antique Porcelain Shop! So many colors!
So little time!

When you are with a bunch of artists, we like to explore different mediums
and Washi Paper is no exception!

This is a sculpture of a Suzuri stone, used in Sumi-E
Brush Painting to grind the ink - IMAGINE THAT! A garden
in Kyoto with an Artist's tool. How much can I LOVE that!

At the end of the trip, we had a wonderful dinner where we all brought one piece to showcase for the week.

Our Show to the group.  So much talent in this group and so much inspiration.

I loved seeing the different pieces the artists chose to show.

An urban Kyoto street scene and a rendering of Kinkaku-ji.

And last, but not least!  Here are a few of the renderings I managed to put together - albeit some are unfinished.... as we had to move along to the next inspiration!

Arashimaya River - Pastel on Paper 11/2015 - unfinished

Sumi-E Workshop - Ink on Washi - 11/2015

Sumi-E Workshop - Ink on Washi - 11/2015

Philosopher's Walk - 11/2015

Until the next ART- Inspiration... Stay tuned!

Me! Along the Kamo River.  Photo Credit: Barbara King

(with) Peace.  (in) ART. (to the) SOUL.
R. Shah Studio
Back to my webpage

1 comment:

Niti Sang said...

What a wonderful experience. Reminded me of all the wonderful places we visited in Japan this summer. Japan is truly inspirational! Keep on creating. Much love, Niti