Drawing the Japanese experience

Written by Paul, August 25, 2020

Going to Japan had been on my bucket list for years. It did not disappoint. I had always been inspired by the Japanese way in culture and design; everything including costume, architecture, theatre, graphics. Their philosophy encompassing Shinto Buddhism and Zen has stimulated my work for years.


When I finally arrived with Tina and friends it was to a mountain top Ryokan  during a tornado! It was something out of a Japanese wood cut by Kuniyoshi.

Very quickly I obtained a sketchbook and started to record all around me; people in traditional and contemporary costume, temples and especially the tranquil gardens where I would occasionally encounter  monk immaculately pruning bushes and plants and raking his sacred sand garden.

Garden Hino Cho A classic example of a small scale garden with a water feature drawn in the rain.

 Temples were everywhere, including shopping precincts. Strange juxtapositions seems to be another of the Japanese traits.

Buildings for example could be random single story shacks, charming in their way; surrounded by uber modern concrete and steel multi storey shops.

Houses offices, gardens to private houses, or even shops and offices could sometimes only occupy a tiny plot but to be exquisite in detail displaying pruned maple Azalea wisteria and peonies.

Water plays an important part in most gardens. This is drawn with a fude pen.

Boat Houses 

Tina and I visited “Ine” a fishing village in the north of Kyoto, again very tranquil; ideal for sketching.

This exquisite harbour was fringed with ramshackle boathouses an absolute joy to draw.

Rough timber boat sheds fringed a sea bay, calm and reflective populated by herons, cormorants and gulls. Old style fishing boats like sampans called Wasen inhabited some of the sheds.

The lady in traditional costume using a handmade rake weeding the fields.


I wanted to research the calligraphy of Japan and was fortunate to meet up with a tutor who I met in a railway station. She showed me some of the basics using Sumi (ink) and the traditional brush ( fude) usually wolf or 

Goats hair or a mix I have since practised assiduously alongside Tina who is learning the language!

Personal seal “Hanko”

Many Japanese images and pieces of calligraphy have invariably a seal “Hanko” Quite often carved by the artists themselves. I carved this one on a specialist stone.

Coming soon 

I shall write up further blogs to explain some of the drawing techniques I evolved during my time in Tokyo Kyoto he know and Ine