Shrine at Dewa Sanzan

This is a shrine at Dewa Sanzan in Yamagata prefecture, one of a group of shrines near the base of the trail to Mt. Haguro. This was meant as a quick-ish study, thinking about using this in a watercolour when I get back into that medium again. I messed up with this, there are some issues with the perspective on the wall of the shrine nearest the viewer. By the time I noticed there was a problem it was too late but I decided to try and at least progress it to a more complete state.

Shrine at Dewa Sanzan, Strathmore 400 sketchbook, 5.5″ x 8.5″


Goryo-jinja shrine, Hase

The Enoshima Electric Railway or the Enoden as it more commonly referred to is a small railway line in Kanagawa prefecture that runs between Fujisawa and Kamakura, the latter being the location of a giant Amida Buddha statue. This sketch is from the entrance to the Goryo-jinja shrine, in Hase, just two or three stops before Kamakura. Here there is a railroad crossing just before the entrance. I think it makes for an interesting contrast.

Enoden train at Goryo Jinja in Hase, Bockingford HP 5″ x 7″


Initial sketch


Keifuku train, Kyoto

The Keifuku Randen line is an old tram line, actually, the only tram line left in Kyoto. It is an interesting option if you’re visiting Kyoto as it stops close by a number of shrines and temples.

Not entirely sure which station this is, it’s based on a reference from a while back, but I believe it was Arashiyama.


Keifuku train, 5″ x 7″ on Bockingford HP
Keifuku train, pencil sketch

Tea house, Nara

A thatched roof tea-house in Nara, named Mizutani-chaya. Situated near to Nara park and the famous Kasuga Taisha shrine. The watercolour version was made in a small Bockingford spiral pad, 5″ x 7″. Not sure how I feel about this, the values are wrong, they don’t quite make logical sense and there is a weird “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” vibe to it! I really need to be practising a lot more than I am.


Line sketch in ink prior to adding the watercolour.


Initial pencil sketch – proportions were a little off here but I fixed that in the line and wash sketch.


Gate, Kyoto

The two sketches featured are of the entrance to a temple or perhaps a garden, in Kyoto. I’m not exactly sure, my photo-reference doesn’t state where exactly in Kyoto this was and I don’t recall where it was either, as the photo dates from several years ago.

I made these sketches a few months back – I didn’t put them up on the blog, probably because I wasn’t very happy with them.  Looking at them again now, I’m still not really happy with either of them but I think there’s value in publishing both the bad and the good. In fact, looking at them now all I can really see is a catalogue of errors!

The first sketch was made on a sheet of student-grade paper, Daler-Rowney Aquafine (A4 size), which I then cut into two so it’s roughly 5″ x 7″ or a little larger. I’ve read and heard from quite a few professionals now, who say that it’s not a good idea to learn watercolour using so-called student-grade paper as the lower quality of these papers just makes it more difficult to learn and get good results.  However, I’m not going to use that excuse here, I think it’s just my technique is awful!



Thatched Entrance Gate, Kyoto


The second sketch is a slight improvement in some ways, I think I did a fairly good job with the texture on the walls and the road and pavement (sidewalk) is okay. The most glaring problem is the roof, which looks distinctly off!

One point is that this sketch was made in a small 5″ x 7″ Bockingford spiral pad with rough paper. Rough paper is I feel a poor choice for this, what was intended to be a fairly tight sketch – a rough paper I think would work better with a more loose approach.

Thatched Entrance Gate, Kyoto

Shrine, Gokayama-go

These are from a trip a while back to the areas of Gokayama-go and Shirakawa-go. They are a UNESCO world heritage site famous for their traditional architecture, the steep-sided thatched gassho-zukuri houses.

For these sketches, however, instead of the houses I concentrated on a shrine in Gokayama.

I also tried using a paper which I purchased recently and had never used before, Bee Paper, advertised as a 100% cotton watercolour paper. I bought the paper after watching Teoh Yi Chie’s review. Having used it now, my impression of it is that it is useful for practice pieces but nothing more than that.

In the first sketch, I applied masking fluid, on the torii, only too late realising that I hadn’t tested the paper to see whether it would handle masking fluid well. It doesn’t! Some of the masking fluid pulled off the paper surface with it. And then I went and repeated exactly the same mistake on the second sketch, thinking that the first time it happened was just because I had left the masking fluid on too long!

Another thing I noticed was that the paint seemed to behave oddly or at least not in ways that I am used to. After applying a wash for instance the paper seemed to take an inordinately long time to dry.

And then there’s the surface texture. The paper is cold-pressed so it has a slight texture to it but the texture has a regular, uniform, machine-like appearance to it which seems less than ideal.

So, all-in-all, not terribly impressed with the paper but I’ll continue to use it for practice and testing ideas.

So, the sketches turned out sort of okay. Not exactly what I was looking for, but I think this is a scene that I will return to again.


Shrine, Gokayama-go, Bee Paper, 6×9 inches, 300gsm


This is the first version; you can probably see the marks on the paper where I tore the surface when taking off the masking fluid!


Shrine, Gokayama-go, Bee Paper, 6×9 inches, 300gsm


This is my initial, quick pencil sketch of the scene.


Mt. Haguro, Yamagata

This was meant as a throwaway exercise on cheap paper, trying out a technique of using masking fluid to reserve areas of the paper from paint application. It’s kind of scrappy, completely lacking any finesse but I feel it does nevertheless communicate; I like the sense of light and the vitality.