My Trip to Japan

This June I was lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Japan.  I travelled there with my husband Mark and my two daughters Asher and Harper. Given that my girls are five and three, I left with low expectations of how much I would actually get to see and experience.  To my surprise, my girls were absolute troopers! I was able to indulge my love of art, temples, galleries and obscure ancient art stores and ateliers to a degree that I would previously have thought impossible in the company of such small people.

So here are the highlights of my art pilgrimage to Japan


For a long time I have been drawn to a dirty, earthy palette, comprised of subtle natural shades.  Japan has always appealed to me for this reason, as their love of natural tones and subtle combinations of hues I have always thought absolutely exquisite.  But, to my surprise, I have found both during and after this trip that there has been a colour explosion in my work.


Once I stepped back and reviewed some of the photos from his trip, it was not surprising to see why! There were beautiful pops of colour everywhere- in the decorations around temples, in the fabrics, the papers, everywhere.  I took along a little watercolour kit and some paint pens with me and bright, colourful work just poured out of me from the outset and hasn’t really stopped since!  My favourite place to work was this very wide window cill in Tokyo, the best light ever!



This is not to say that I didn’t get a good hit of my old favourite natural and earth tones in Japan.  The temples and gardens in Kyoto were the most beautiful and magical that I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a reasonable amount of Asia).  I was particularly enamoured by their love of trees and moss.  Their understated approach to creating gardens with subtle surprises and magical mini-scales inside the broader landscape had me gobsmacked.  And I completely fell in love with the way that their traditional architecture interacts with these gardens.  I would really love to return there one day with a garden expert and just focus on that.  As someone who regularly paints and draws the gnarled shapes of tree branches, I felt very at home.



Being the art and history nerd that I am, one of the highlights of this journey for me was going to Saiun-do, a traditional art supply store in Kyoto.  I had bought a fabulous book before I left called “Old Kyoto” by Diane Durston. This guide to traditional shops, restaurants and inns in Kyoto was full of treasures, this store being one of them.  Saiun-do has been in the same family for over a hundred years and it looks like it.  I tentatively stood, making sure that my two girls didn’t knock anything over in this tiny store, while the owner and I communicated via mainly hand-gestures and a few English words as he set me up with the supplies I needed to do Sumi-e and Suiboku-ga painting.  While I’m yet to test out my new supplies, the memory of being served in this store will stay with me forever.



We travelled to Japan at a time when it was very hot, and in Kyoto I discovered that the local art gallery precinct was a great way to grab a break from the heat in air-conditioned comfort.  I saw some incredible exhibitions, including a major retrospective of Dali (who knew!) and ‘Glittering Heritage of Beauty in Kyoto’, which focussed on the work that local artists were producing as they were exposed to the west for the first time in 200 years in the late nineteenth century, as ‘Japonisme’ swept Europe.


One day, thanks to catching a wrong bus, we ended up a a museum I was so hoping to go to- the home, garden and museum of Nihonga painter Hashimoto Kansetsu.  We were able to sit in his actual studio, with not a single soul around (a rarity in Kyoto!) and gaze upon the garden and ponds in which it was set.  This gave me a real sense of how traditional Japanese artists worked in such intimate connection with their natural surroundings.  I was particularly taken with the mastery with which he painted trees and foliage and it can see that this influence will certainly be making its way into my work.

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So that’s the round up of my little art pilgrimage to Japan, I can’t wait to get back someday!

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