Some days or weeks, the creative juices will just not flow. The past few weeks have been really busy with work and trying to find another role or job and it completely drained me from any urge I had to create. A lot of video games were played and that never helps either.
So when I came back to this piece, of which I only did the rough sketch in red pencil, I was worried I would not know how to work on it. Out of pure insecurity on my ability to ink it properly, I warmed up with my fountain pen for two pages in my sketchbook and then had a go at this Fuji view. It was inked in about 15 minutes and I do not recall what my fear was.
Similar to the coloring, using my Daniel Smith paints, I did this view side by side with a few smaller projects so that while the one was drying, I could work on the other. My dream house, the house I’ll build when winning the lottery, has a big room that is my art studio and that studio has multiple desks and ample room for easels so I can work on multiple pieces all at the same time and I only have to move from one desk to another. Or maybe a long table and a chair with wheels, although I already have that in one of the rooms here in the house so writing this opens a window in my head.
The biggest success of this piece is that it showed me that it will be fine and that I should not give up on myself or my already acquired skills.
The eighth already and this project rested for about a month. There is not that much to go into detail about on this view, other than that the western reader should keep in mind to read from the top right to the bottom left. Made with mostly Daniel smith paints, only the Prussian blue at the top was Mijello but a tube of DS Prussian Blue has been acquired and will be used for these skies in the future.
As a minor aside, I should not leave a sketchbook open for a month in my room, there were little dust particles that were really in my way when going for the green of the hill in the foreground.
With this seventh piece, a milestone is met. I drew my first horse and to be honest, it took me almost two weeks to force myself to work on it, not just the horse but the entire piece is something. There are many little details that make this composition work.
Not only the big horse stands out but also the fence in the middle right, the fisher man and his companion, everything is touched by trees and many of the colors are multi layered.
For me the highlight of 武州千住 (Bushū Senju) came in the form of the two distant trees in the middle, rising up from the underbrush. Mount Fuji here plays no role at all, other than reminding us that this is indeed part 7 of 36 views of Mount Fuji.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I think it is obvious why I choose to recreate the original, the gloominess of it is palpable.
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.
I bet Prussian blue would have gone better with the Cerulean Blue as well.
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.