Cushion Pine at Aoyama

This is the sixth piece I did for the 36+10 Views of Mount Fuji series and I must admit it grew on me. The ones I did so far were obviously special to me, for a wide variety of reasons. The “Cushion Pine at Aoyama” ( 青山円座松 Aoyama enza-no-matsu) initially did nothing for me.

Only when I was putting down the color, it became clear this is a very well balanced piece of work. Keep in mind that Japanese writing goes from right to left.

The flow of this piece will naturally go from the people in the bottom right over the high end of the pine trees up to Mt. Fuji and then back down to the houses hidden away behind mist and trees. The horizontal clouds cut the field of view flat through the middle where everything below it is obviously close and that above it is obviously far.

Then from the houses flows the bottom open space back past the shrine to the people where a lot of details make an interesting scene. With the mountain as the biggest part of this piece and right in the middle of the paper, it plays only a background role to the traveller’s picnic and the father walking his child.

Finally, the mist line acts as a mirror across the paper, the trees go down where the mountain goes up forming an elegant negative of each other. The soft background of very light pink in the low mist, the light shading of the mountain and the strong Prussian blue in the high and low sky makes this piece a very special work.

Trees of Daniel Smith Primatek Genuine Jadeite and Serpentite. From Majello Mission Gold Yellow Ochre, Van Dyke Brown, Prussian Blue, Peacock Blue, Light Red and Orange.

Sundai, Edo

Already on the fifth of this series, it is a really enjoyable pastime and creative endeavor. Sundai, Edo (東都駿台, Tōto sundai) seems to be a nondescript picture of a road with travelers, a big pine tree and mount Fuji in the background. While I would love to say it is so much more, sometimes a road is just that. Making more of it would be wrong.

The biggest challenge in this piece is that every color used, touches on of the other colors. There is no escaping drying time per color and care should be taken to indeed fill all the spots where a color is to be used to prevent more drying time.

The paint used is a 36 color palette Mijello Mission Gold, a very nice shaped box that comes with small tubes that you can fill in the palette yourself. Gives you a nice case of the IKEA effect but aside from that the paints are really good. Activate really easy and give a very smooth, even layer of paint. My main gripe about this palette is the high amount of mixed colors but the St. Petersburg paint did worse in that regard.

For the trees I used Hookers Green and that worked out way better than expected. A downside of very fine paint is that to get it to shade well, you cannot escape glazing. With this green however, the paint was heavy enough to stay in place when applied in larger amounts but still giving a smooth gradient.

For the yellow I used Yellow Ocher as I found the other yellows in the palette far too artificial. While it has a tendency to dominate it is balanced out by the green, making this an even work.

Drawing outside, first time in 2021

Without needing to go into detail, 2020 was a weird year. At the beginning of the year, around the same time as I am writing this, I decided to do more drawing and painting outside. Got myself a nice satchel ready with all my drawing and watercolor supplies needed to just grab and go.

Drawing urbanscapes in groups, called Urban Sketching, was on my todo list, I would visit all weekends and getaways I could join by train such as Amsterdam, Brussels, Cologne, Paris. Things went a bit different.

Now it is 2021 and that same itch is coming over me, I want to go outside and draw. Visit cities and paint, join with other painters and do my solo thing but more in a group. It should be possible, I think.

Last week it was nice here in the Netherlands, we had 17 degrees Celsius temperatures on Tuesday and I drew the playground near my house.

Playground in a warm February afternoon

Today it cooled off a lot but I figured it would be fine with 7 degrees. Something I keep forgetting with this temperature however is that water will evaporate so much slower than I am used to in my house. So you have to wait longer if you want to do a bit of shading and glazing. Sit still longer, in 7 degrees. Over time I will figure out what the minimum is to be able to go outside comfortably and have the paint behave, for now I will try again at 12 minimum.

Forgot to paint the inside of the boat

Under Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa

So we continue this series with the fourth piece out of 46, a very different setting from the previous three that were all about natural shapes and how nature is kicking ass. In this, the viewer is positioned in such a way as to view Mount Fuji framed and surrounded by all man made structures.

Another thing I noticed while drawing it is the huge amount of geometrical shapes: straight lines in the bridge and background buildings, circles in the hats and umbrella and partial ellipses in the bridge but also in the boats.

The thing that is really astonishing in this piece is the use of vanishing point perspective, a rather new thing in mid-19th century Japan and rather uncommon to see used correctly. This could have been a coincidence tho as some later pieces are wonky in places, when it happens I will point it out but I will follow the artists’ perspective instead of correcting it.

The piece took something of 6 to 8 hours of interrupted work, a full Saturday in fact. Included in that is the waiting time for the various layers of paint that had to dry, something I have a hard time getting used to in watercolor. These complicated pieces teach me patience already. Rough sketch, line work, paint, wait, paint, wait, etc.

Everything considered, it worked out really well. Normally when I do a complicated work by the time the line work is finished and that looks good, I am concerned I will ruin the piece by painting it sloppy or just plain bad. Of course, the color composition was done for me and the block print technique has few blending washes, making it easier to paint. In this case, I went in confident that I could pull it off if I took the time for it. I feel the confidence paid off.

With a range of Daniel Smith paints such as Primatek Serpentine and Jadeite, Janes Grey, Goetite, Burned Sienna and Cerulean Blue. A small amount of St Petersburg Prussian Blue was used at the top banner.

Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit

The composition of this piece is very similar to the previous, in that the mountain is there but now with two more in the background so from another angle. A lightning strike can be seen in the lower half of the painting, the bottom half of the mountain is covered in darkness.

I took care in using Prussian blue this time and decided against going for pure black in the lower mountain for two reasons.

First, Black is not a nice color to use with watercolor, it just adds dull spots to the paper, sucking the light and hurting the transparent effects that are so charming with this medium. Second, It would be way too big to get even. Dark brown, Burned Umber, gives the same feel of darkness without consuming all the light so I went with that.

As a last comment on painting this: those clouds were much harder than they looked.

So while to makes no sense to repeat the wikipedia article about this piece, this part I found very interesting:

In a later impression the publisher introduced some significant changes. The sky is now rendered in purplish greyish with a band of yellow at the top. The flash of the lightning bolt vividly silhouettes a group of pine trees at the foot of the mountain, cut from a new block, making them appear close to the viewer.

So this guy, who was the publisher, decided to make changes and the article does not make it clear if the artist agreed. Looking at the altered version, the changes completely change the feel of whatever it was that Hokusai tried to get across.

Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit By Hokusai, later variation – Public Domain, Link

I think it is obvious why I choose to recreate the original, the gloominess of it is palpable.

Fine Wind, Clear Morning

In the second iteration of the 36+10 views of Mt. Fuji project I am undertaking, the central figure of the drawing is the mountain itself without any compromise. For reasons very clear to the viewer, this drawing is also referred to as “Red Fuji” and sometimes “South Wind, Clear Sky” but I think the original title is refined enough and does not need anything else.

For most of my watercolor paintings, I use a homemade 24 pan palette that I should really do a blog post for so I can refer to it everywhere. It contains many paints that granulate heavily which I really love for urban sketching, the granulation will suggest details and will give everything a texture of having lived. For the wood print here replicated and in fact for most of those to come, the coloring is much smoother, using ink instead of pigments and creating texture by refined linework or gradients rather than the paints itself.

As a result, I will need to leave my travel palette in it’s bag for this project which is fine as I will not paint on the road anyway and I bought a few palette boxes over the last few years that get way too little use.

Fine Wind, Clear Morning was colored using the St. Petersburg wooden White Nights 48 set and I would advice anyone that likes painting not to buy it. Rather get a metal set as now you have mixing wells that are very absent in the wooden box. It is a very lovely box tho so if you want to give someone you love a gift, the wooden box is perfect. If that grump wants wells, they can take out the pans and put them in a tin themselves. If the pans were not a weird size tho, so maybe gift them the 35 tin if you are so inclined to throw costly gifts at them.

With regards to the paints themselves, they granulate easy, are vibrant, pigment rich, and hardly granulate at all. Which is just what I needed here.

A mistake was made with regards to the band of blue at the top. I thought it was Ultramarine Blue but it turns out the print uses Prussian Blue not only in this print but in many others as well. That should teach me to read the wikipedia page before painting the painting and blogging and posting the blog post.

Ultramarine (Daniel Smith), Cerulean Blue, Paynes Grey, Madder Lake Red Light, Green.

I bet Prussian blue would have gone better with the Cerulean Blue as well.

The Great Wave of Kanagawa, looking east.

The art of Japanese wood prints always fascinated me, ever since I first encountered them. On my walls are a few cheap prints I bought almost twenty years ago. The best known master of the art of Japanese wood prints is Hokusai.

One of the best known pieces is “The Great Wave of Kanagawa“, which comes from the series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji“. I know these are a ton of wikipedia links, but looking for things to draw I found myself wondering if it would be worthwhile to do watercolor renditions of the art of Hokusai. The serie consists of the aformented 36 plus another 10 made later when the original series turned out to be very successful. A total of 46 drawings.

Considering the Perfect Sketchbook has 44 pages but also is covered in watercolor paper on the inside of the front cover and I can tear out the back pocket and replace it with a sheet of paper I have lying around, I could do 46 water color paintings in the one book and thus a new project was born.

This is 1/46 and it was great fun to make, looking forward to the coming months while I do them all.

Daniel Smith paints: Pthalo Blue GS for the waves, Buff Titanium and Jane’s Grey for the boats, Moon Glow for the lower sky, Quinacrodone Gold and Quinacrodone Rose for the upper sky.

Paperblank Notebook

Over a decade ago I walked into a local stationary store and encountered the Paperblanks notebooks for the first time. These are really beautiful notebooks, with classic embossed hard covers, solid stitch work on the binding and perfect paper for making notes using a fountain pen. In fact, ever since I ran into them, I have been using these books for my work notes and fill about one every 18 months with random scribbles from the workplace.

Fall 2020 New Releases (paperblanks.com media resources)

In these interesting times, with everyone in my workplace working from home and all meetings are done using some sort of teleconferencing tool, it is very tempting to just zone out and hear nothing that people talk about. In a real-life meeting, you have to some extend pretend to be listening but behind a screen, all bets are off. “Turned of my camera, having some bandwidth issues.” and you never have to dress up anymore. More meetings are held where half the participants are in pajama bottoms than is admitted and fancy dress retailers are struggling to stay afloat.

Another often overlooked benefit of not being in the same room and turning off your camera during meetings is the ability to draw and doodle to your hearts content. Before this whole working from home took off big time and with that, access to my dedicated drawing sketchbooks, I doodled mostly in my work notebooks. You can see the lines well in these doodles:

Both pages are filled using “Platinum Carbon Ink” which is very VERY prone to feathering.

I can go back multiple books and find these types of doodles, made during meetings. This is also where the “Mourning Meetings” series came from, things done to listen better.

So during the Sketchbook Selection, I considered filling a few pages in a Paperblank book without lines that I bought ages ago for some reason. But I realized I can showcase earlier made doodles just as well and I know very well how the paper handles in all circumstances.

Price per page is hard as the books are sometimes hard to find and of various thickness and extra’s but be sure to avoid the magnetic clasps as they damage everything in your bag and the magnets fall off after a while. Ask me how I know.

The sizes are weird, not mentioning actual length but going with Midi (13x18cm), Mini(95x140mm), Ultra (18x23cm) and so on making find the best book for you online a bit of a hassle. But if I go with the book I use now, which is a regular covered, 120 gsm Midi book with 144 pages, the price would be €16,95.

  • There is very low absorbtion of the ink in the paper and only on the most fickle inks this will lead to very minor feathering, only visible of you take a super close look. Normal people will not care, I do. 4/5
  • Really nice and smooth paper without ever getting slippery, made to write on. 5/5
  • Some minor transparency and this is never an issue when just making notes but it can be distracting when drawing. 4/5
  • The hardcover is amazing, there are many different styles and patterns, surely there is one to fit your taste and to impress your absent office mates. When not embossed, takes stickers well. 6/5
  • Price per page comes to (16,95 / 144) 11,7ct a page and that is not bad for the general quality of the book. 4/5
  • Solid binding, will lay flat without an issue. It is not only for the cover and paper I have been using these as my notebooks for almost a decade.
  • Features. Well, there are so many features it is hard to list them all here. Just look at the site. Wrap, ribbon, clasps or wrap-around closures. The books come lines, blank or with music staves. So many sizes, so many covers. Depending on the amount of pages, the book edge might be printed. The combinations are not endless, the manufacturer does do custom made but I never ventured there.

So there you are, if you like pretty stuff, like making notes in something that is somewhat unique (I never encountered any others in the wild) and you like using fountain pens, this is for you. If you want the very best sketchbook, this is not it. The 120 gsm paper is supreme for note-taking and doodles but there are better sketchbooks out there. However, if someone who knows you are an artist gifts you one of these with blank pages, know they love you. And be sure to gift your fellow office dwellers one as well.