October Illustrations – Graphical Illustration “Japan in Black and White”

My last October Illustration is a graphical respresentation of some aspects of Japan.

During the Easter holidays, while the lockdown was happening, I found a couple of brilliant YouTube channels about Japan. (The Japanese culture and it’s beautiful islands are an interest of mine.) The first is Life Where I’m From and the second is Abroad in Japan . Both of them are interesting and informative and often charmingly funny.

While watching these I decided to make an ink illustration of some of the places and objects which captured my interest. I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach this so I began by making some rough sketches in my sketchbook…

Then I decided to make it into a black and white poster. I found some old A3 acrylic and oil paper which is really heavy and takes ink very well and taped it onto my board. I wanted to make a big tai chi in the centre as it would draw the eye from further away which is something you want when illustrating a poster. So I made some basic construction lines and then began to draw…

(Apologies for this image. When I start drawing I use my pencils really lightly, so I had to really push the image in photoshop to get the pencils to show up.)

I went on to make a simple outline drawing of all of my quick sketches and then added a few more…

Once my outline was done I first filled in all of the solid black areas so that I could make sure my picture had a good overall balance and looked interesting from a distance.

Here is the drawing once all of the black ink was done…

After that I put in my textures. I was still near the beginning of working on texture so there are fewer textures than I would necessarily like if I redrew this picture over the summer, but I was slowly improving.

Here are a couple of close-ups of the differing textures I used…

Once my textures were done I then added a few areas of midtone ink (made by mixing water and regular ink in a waterbrush.) Here is my final illustration…

Over all I’m really pleased with it. It has the strong graphical quality around the central tai chi which I was looking for.


“Young Adults” Part 3 # 3 – The young man who loves to cook insects.

This is the last in a series of three ink portraits of young adults. This young Japanese man is an expert at cooking insects. I saw a video about him and was impressed by his knowledge, skills and enthusiasm. I paused the video just as he was serving a plate of insects and looking really thrilled at what he had made. His face was full of joy. It was such a beautiful image, I had to draw it.

Here are my pencils…

And here is the final drawing, following the same technique that I used in the previous two attempts at this particular exercise…

With this drawing I worked quite hard to put this young man in his commercial kitchen. It was an interesting place with many different tools of a chef’s trade. This drawing turned out a little looser than the last one. I think that gives it an immediacy which I almost like, but I still find my heart wanting tighter line work (even when I am actively trying to loosen it up a bit!)

The Wild Self, Autism and the Kinship of Stories

The wolf

I have been re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book “Women Who Run with the Wolves” recently and listening to some of her audio stories. It’s been a really good learning experience in terms of life and art. In honour of this I decided to try to paint a wolf. Again I tried to paint it in a way which could have been printed with a set of woodblocks, using flat washes of colour and simple gradients.

I began with a sketch…

Then covered my whites with masking fluid and ran a variegated wash over it very lightly.

Then I began laying down the flat washes, colour by colour just as a printer might.

This is my final painting…

I wasn’t sure how to imitate the line work of Ukiyo-e prints. Here I just left it with the pencil showing but I think a slightly darker tone would be better. That said I don’t think black would work so well, it might make it look like a cartoon. I might try getting some really thin 0.3 or 0.2 dark sepia pens which could give me the kind of tone I’m after.

A small difficulty I had with this picture is that the paper was marked with oil, probably just from handling, (it was from an older batch) so in places the paint was absorbed more giving darker tones in what was supposed to be a very flat wash. I could handle this by using gouache paint but watercolour looks more similar to the inks in the original Ukiyo-e prints. My other option is to buy some cotton rich paper which has better absorption qualities and then make sure I only use clean untouched sheets for this kind of work. I’ve never worked with a good cotton paper before so that might be fun to try.

Here’s the book which inspired this painting…

The Wild Self, Autism and the Kinship of Stories

I think I have a strong tendency to be too “tame”, to follow rules without thinking and do as I’m told. I think this comes from being Autistic, and having a systems view of the world. I just find out how things work and then follow the pattern, just like a good AI robot. I am really happy being told what to do and then getting on with it. The difficulty I come up against is that this approach only works well when the systems are effective and no-one is giving false or inaccurate information. I find it really difficult when I’ve done what I’ve been told is the right thing to do only to find that I’ve been lied to or accidentally mislead or when I’ve misunderstood. When this happens people rarely allow me to explain and often I can’t because one of the unwritten rules of social functioning is that you mustn’t expose other people’s wrong doing or mistakes. So I get blamed for things which are not my fault really often.

This book, “Women who run with the wolves”, gives me some really good guidance about all of this. It teaches me how to know when to question something and how to go about it in a natural and intelligent way using the archetype of the wild woman. Best of all Estes uses traditional stories from all over the world to teach this wisdom.

Now I have always had a strong kinship with stories. I expect this just comes from being lucky enough to have parents who read to me and encouraged books when I was young. I also had a younger sister who was, and is, a stronger person than me in so many ways. She used to demand that I made up a story for her after we were put to bed. I found sleep very difficult as a child so I was mostly happy to do this although I sometimes tried to refuse (my teddy Rusty was then threatened and she usually got a short and rather unsatisfactory story from me that night). Even nowadays, at work, I still make up stories on the spot for the children, often putting them into the tale or letting them choose various facts in the story. So stories have always been a language I understand. (In fact I often wonder if stories are not a primary programming language for human beings.) Anyway, I think this is why Ms. Estes’ book is so helpful for me. She uses stories to help people.

She also distinguishes between being tame, being feral and being truly wild. Being tame is how I tend to function, following rules and letting others tell me what to do. Being feral is kind of what happens when people are too tame for too long – it’s an inappropriate explosion of the wild nature which isn’t balanced or particularly helpful. It happens when people “go off the rails”. The real wild nature is different. Although it can be savage at times, it is only like that when necessary. Mostly it is balanced, wise and centred, doing whatever is needed for the person and those around them at the time. What I like best is that it gives me a way of managing things which doesn’t leave me so open to difficulties.

I will have to practice this to get it right but I think it will be worth it.

Shin Hanga – Kawase Tribute in Watercolour

The Shin Hanga, or “New Print” movement in Japanese woodblock printing is something I find to be absolutely stunning.  I especially love the work of Kawase Hasui and Tsuchiya Koitsu.  This week I worked on drawing and painting a tribute to Kawase and then a piece in which I tried to follow these marvellous print makers in spirit.

The print I wanted to use to make the tribute to Kawase’s work is his “Nagahama Beach in Mito.  Here is a digital version of Kawase’s original work…


I found the initial drawing quite exacting as I wanted to draw the painting as if the image were going to be carved.  Although I’m by no means an expert I have carved a few things before so I have a very basic idea of what I can and can’t be done.  Here’s my initial drawing…



Then I wanted to paint this picture with watercolours but try to get similar effects to Japanese woodblock printing.  So my washes had to be either smooth gradients or really careful flat washes.  I found this quite demanding but also quite enjoyable because I was dealing with one colour at a time and one section of the painting at a time.  Trying to think like a print artist seemed to give me this sense of focus and quietness which I really enjoyed.

This is the final painting…


Next I wanted to paint something local and original but I also wanted to try to use some of what I’d learned in the tribute piece.  I decided on a view of our local common.

Here’s the sketch…


I tried to reduce the scene, which was quite complex, to simple layers which could be printed.

Then I went on to paint the picture with watercolours but in a restricted way so that the end result might look as if it could be printed.  Again I had to think about simple sections of colour and smooth gradients.  Mostly I got there but I may have used too many colours in the background row of trees for a woodblock print.  I think it could be done but it would take a lot of blocks.




Japanology, Prints and Paintings


Although this post will be published in Mid March, I am actually writing it during the half term holidays in the middle of February.  This half term I have been recovering from an illness which took me to hospital last week and looking after my son who has had an operation a few days ago.  So, rather than being out and about, I have spent a lot of time relaxing indoors and looking after my lad who is doing very well.  While surfing the web I stumbled across a series of Japanese woodblock prints.  I have always loved The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai.

Here is a link from Wikipedia:

Great Wave of Kangawa by Hokusai

But I have never made a serious study of the art-form – until now!  I have been blown away by the simplicity and beauty of this kind of art.

Woodblock printing originally came to Japan from China in the 8th century CE and for a long time was only used for printing the written word – mainly Buddhist texts.  Then in 1765, right in the middle of the Edo period, a new style of polychromatic woodblock printing was invented called Nishiki-e.  At first they printed beautiful calendars with this method but the technique was soon taken up by ‘Floating World’ artists and so Ukiyo-e was born.  Ukiyo-e is printed art which centres on the fleeting and ephemeral nature of ordinary life.  It began featuring the goings on in the urban pleasure districts during the Edo period – beautiful women, geishas and teahouse mistresses, kabuki theatre, warriors and sumo wrestlers.  Later the subject matter broadened out to include landscapes, travel scenes, scenes involving people doing ordinary jobs, natural scenes of animals and plants and much more.  I have only really touched upon the surface of the subject so far but here are my favourites at this stage:




  • Kawase, a more modern artist, who specialised in landscapes of tranquil and obscure places.  Here is a selection of his work from the Ronin Gallery


  • Koitsu, another more modern artist who also does a lot of landscapes.  Here is some of his work.


The last two of these artists are from the Shin Hanga movement which began in about 1910.  It was really a revival of the original woodblock printing with some modern influences.  (Shin Hanga means “New Prints”.)

Of course, having been blown away by this artwork I wanted to have a go myself.  My aim was not to make my own woodblock prints but to create watercolour and gouache paintings which have a similar look and feel.  I suspect this is something that I will have to learn as I work on it.

The first painting I had a try at was a natural scene of a bird with some cherry blossom by a late 19th century / early 20th century artist called Ohara Koson…

Orange Bird and Cherry Blossom by Ohara Koson


I made this painting as a present for a family member’s birthday…


I made a graded wash going from the centre outwards with more cadmium yellow deep as I got towards the edge.  Then I painted the bird and the flowers on with watercolours.  I wasn’t sure from the original what bird species it was so my interpretation is a little fanciful  (sort of a red version of a blue tit).


While I was at the hospital waiting for my son to be discharged I made a sketch in pencil of the next subject I wanted to have a go at.  Here’s the original art by Kawase…

Moon at Matsushima by Hasui Kawase


Here’s my interpretation as a sketch…


And here is my watercolour impression of Kawase’s work…

I used a basic graded wash over my pencil outline and then painted the features on with gouache.  I am pleased with how both of these paintings turned out as initial studies, but I would like to work some more on this to see how far I can take it and what that ends up looking like.



Ink and Watercolour Koi

This week I played around with using watercolour and ink seperately and then together.  I began making a koi tattoo design using black ink on paper.

This was drawn in my sketchbook.

Then I thought I’d have a go at doing a proper watercolour koi carp.  I love the way watercolour spreads when it’s wet in wet and I thought that would look great with the spots you get on the back of some of the fish.

I got this all painted but the style was really loose and impressionistic.  My son liked it but I couldn’t tolerate it.  It’s odd because I love it when others are quite free in their work but I can’t stand it in mine.  So I began to tighten it up with ink.  I liked it much more this way with the black ink supplying a strong boundary and contrast for the more impressionistic red watercolour spots.  I’m not totally happy with the result but it was fun having a go.  Maybe I should try to let things be more free?


Here’s the final picture…


Day 37 – Autism, illness, love and faith.

Being unwell has some odd effects on me.  I’ve been told that some of this is probably due to the autism, some is just the way my particular body and mind work and some is common to most people.

I’m normally a calm and quite happy person and well able to keep my head in difficult, even threatening, circumstances.  This is why I did well working with children who had emotional and behaviour problems when I first qualified as a teacher.  However when I get sick I become less able to manage as well as I normally do emotionally.  This tends to come out in the evenings when I’m tired.  I find myself getting tearful for reasons I can’t understand.  Because of the autism, I sometimes don’t notice other symptoms for a long while so the first sign on me getting ill is my emotions.  Then when I take my temperature and check myself over I find I’m feverish and unwell.

Once I realise what’s going on and start to take care of the illness I get medical help and proper bed-rest.  Then although I still feel horrible physically, emotionally I begin to feel better.  As soon as the fever begins to break I start to sleep a lot.  After a few days of that, when the illness goes, even though in this case I’m still left with a cough, it’s like waking up on a sunny morning after a night of heavy rain – everything is fresh and clean and quiet in my mind and I feel closer to God than usual.

It was in this state of mind that I drew the following in my sketchbook…



The symbol on the left is from a Catholic group called the Jesus Caritas Fraternity, although it is my own design of their idea.  I’m not Catholic myself (I’m Baptist) but I have a dear friend of many years, another teacher, who is.  She’s a musician too and we’ve played in catholic and protestant churches all over our home town.  Anyway the Caritas people concentrate on bringing the love of God to people who are abandoned and marginalised in a quiet, lowly way.  They don’t push conversion, instead they love people and care for them unconditionally believing that when people feel the love of God for themselves, then conversion becomes natural.  This is how it was for me.  Having read some books related to all of this by a chap called Carlo Caretto I came to see this symbol as meaning the love of God in Jesus and it became really very personal for me.

Many years later I ended up getting a tattoo of this symbol with the Japanese character Dao 道, which means road, path, way.  The design I did for this was…


It’s on my foot as a reminder to always walk in the path of the love of God – like a prayer which is always with me.  🙂

Anyway the picture on the right, of the shepherd and sheep kind of expresses a bit, that feeling I was trying to convey when I previously tried to draw some more religious art a month of so ago and ended up giving up.  It shows, for me I think, the love and safety and wholeness I feel so much from my faith.  (The shepherd is supposed to be Jesus and I’m the sheep.)

Here’s the final image…


Challenge Days 11 and 12 – The Nakasendo Way

Over the last week I’ve been unwell with a chest infection.  I was still able to sketch a bit after a few days but haven’t been well enough to do much more.  Fortunately I had my last post already scheduled before I became ill so that went ahead without me.

While I was unwell in bed I was looking through pictures of Japan on my tablet.  I came across this old route from Kyoto to Tokyo called the Nakasendo Way.  It’s a route which people often choose to walk as it is recognised as being quite beautiful.

As I was recovering I began to try to sketch a scene from a small town on the route.


It was difficult because as the road climbs and turns it puts buildings into perpectives with different vanishing points.  The first thing I did was to slightly simplify this to two points.  I wasn’t aiming to sketch an exact copy but to make an enjoyable scene.

Here’s the beginning of the drawing construction:


I was drawing very lightly, mainly because I was in bed and not sitting at a table I think, so I had to ‘push’ the photograph when I got it into my PC to get it to show the lines.  Here’s the finished sketch:




My next stage, when I was well again, was to ink the sketch.  It was quite a therapeutic thing to do – really relaxing.  I love inking!

Here’s my finished ink drawing:


As you can see, instead of putting in the people who were in the original photograph I put in someone in more traditional dress.  I also added (at the sketching stage) a plant pot on the bottom right to add interest and detail to the forground.   I’m sad to say that I don’t read Japanese  and so I have no idea what the sign at the front of the picture says or if I copied it accurately enough.

Once that was done  I scanned the images into my PC and then added some greyscale shading to the picture to finish it off.  Rather than making all the ‘flats’ (areas of single colour which can be used to define a mask and paint just that bit), I decided to paint the greycale shading on – just colouring it in like you would on a paper colouring book.  It was much quicker.  In a couple of places I later played around with the lightness of certain areas using a mask.  Generally though I think I prefer the more organic shading as I think it has a nicer feel.  I tried to keep the shading simple and to use it to bring out the main shapes in the little town landscape.

Here’s my finished picture:


I’m really pleased with this one.  🙂