Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Japan sketchbook - 14

Himeji Castle
Watercolour, crayon and marker
©2015 Charlene Brown

The next day we were off to Himeji to see the White Heron Castle, “the best castle in Japan or possibly the world,” according to our guide. Its recently-unveiled refurbishment is “too white” according to some, but was just perfect against a deep blue sky that day.
We climbed to the top – in stocking feet up many flights of ladder-steep stairs – so I was able to photograph this unique view including a tiny portion of the very complex tile roof.  I decided to paint that instead of trying to capture all of the ornate gables in the prototypical Japanese castle architecture

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Japan sketchbook - 13

Todaiji Temple Daibutsu (Great Buddha)
Watercolour and crayon
©2015 Charlene Brown

The Todaiji temple complex includes a hall that was until 1998 the world’s largest wooden building, rebuilt three times after two fires and a typhoon. This hall houses the world’s largest bronze Daibutsu, a magnificent statue of the Buddha, almost 15 m. in height, that more than makes up for having to traverse the prevailing deer menace…
In Nara, both the Todaiji Temple and the Kasuga Shrine are surrounded by deer parks that proved to be a challenge for those of us with the usual Victoria deer attitude – and it turned out the Nara deer have attitude as well, especially toward anyone who hasn’t come up with 150 Yen for deer cookies. Actually, they are a little easier to deal with than Victoria deer as they are very small and obey traffic signals. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Japan sketchbook - 12

Golden Temple
Watercolour, crayon and marker
©2015 Charlene Brown

The day after our Shirikawa visit, we began our journey to Kyoto on a regular train and switched to the famous ‘Bullet’ at Nagoya. Our luggage had been sent ahead (because of the unlikelihood of making the 18-minute, three-level connection in Nagoya if we had it with us) and upon arrival in Kyoto, as soon as we ascertained that all our stuff was in fact at our hotel, we went back across the street to explore the multi-level architectural wonders of the railway station – as if Kyoto, with its 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites didn’t already have plenty for us to see.

The next day, our itinerary included the famous Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple, where we looked first at the iconic view with the reflecting pond, shown here. Then we went right up close – our guide made sure we realized the Golden Temple is covered with squares of gold leaf, not just paint – and all the way around the magnificent temple grounds.  As with the Imperial East Garden on our first day, I loved that the serenity was undisturbed by the dozens of workers quietly maintaining the perfection of everything with hand tools and twig brooms.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Japan Sketchbook - 10 and 11

Thatch-roofed temple at Shirakawa
Watercolour and crayon
©2015 Charlene Brown

Our day trip to Shirakawa took us through a series of viaducts and tunnels, one 11 km long! Before the tunnels were built, the area was so isolated and snow-bound, it was sometimes called the Tibet of Japan, and a unique thatched architecture evolved.  I thought the temple pictured on the left was an especially appealing example of this, and made a point of putting it in the second painting, in which I’ve tried to include the whole village, along with the three to five-story A-frame houses, the suspension bridge, the vegetable gardens and paddies on the valley floor, and even the terraced crops on the mountain slope in the background. The temple, should you be looking for it, is surrounded by purple trees, just to the left of the centre of the panorama view.

Click on image to enlarge
Shirakawa Village
Watercolour, crayon and marker
©2015 Charlene Brown

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Japan sketchbook - 8 and 9

Onsen at the ryokan
Watercolour, crayon and marker
©2015 Charlene Brown

After a night sleeping on the floor on tatami mats at an onsen ryokan, some of us enjoyed a sunrise dip in the milky green sulphur hot springs pool – ‘some’ being those of us unafraid to go out to a pool where no bathing suits or clothing (or cameras, fortunately) were allowed.  

The ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, is located in a caldera with active steam vents in the allegedly dormant volcanic peaks towering above. This was a brand new experience for most of us, and (also allegedly) made us each five years younger.

Hakone caldera

Watercolour and crayon
©2015 Charlene Brown

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Japan sketchbook - 7

(click on image to enlarge)
Lake Ashi
Watercolour, crayon and marker
©2015 Charlene Brown

Still making our way to Hakone, we went for a boat cruise on Lake Ashi, passing the torii gate at the entrance to the Hakone Shrine shown here near the shore on the left. 

One of the truly iconic views of Mt. Fuji includes this gate, but Mt. Fuji was pretty much clouded over when we were there and most of us didn’t even know it was out there.

Anyway, I really liked this view, which includes the torii gate to the Hyoshi shrine in the background… and we had a terrific look at Mt. Fuji over several hours of our travels the next day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Japan sketchbook - 6

(click on image to enlarge)

Hase Temple
Watercolour and crayon
©2015 Charlene Brown

This Buddhist temple is most famous for its 9 m. tall gilded statue of Kannon, the goddess of Mercy – one of the largest wooden sculptures in Japan.  The temple also includes an underground cave, the Benzaiten Grotto, and a garden with hundreds of poignant little stone Jizo statues – some laughing, but all tragic – placed there by grieving parents.

There is also a spectacular cliff-top outlook to the sea, with this uni-lingual but easily understood warning about aggressive kites .

Monday, December 21, 2015

Japan sketchbook - 5

(click on image to enlarge)
Great Buddha of Kamakura
Watercolour and crayon
©2015 Charlene Brown

On November 5, on the way to Hakone, we stopped at Kamakura. The presence of the Great Buddha was surprisingly calming, considering the throngs of tourists and uniformed school children at the site.

This huge (13.35 m) bronze statue has withstood much worse over the years, since its original casting in 1252. At first it was housed in a large hall, but this was destroyed (twice) by storms during the 14th century, then washed away by a tsunami at the end of the 15th century. Since then it has stood in the open air. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 destroyed the base, which was repaired in 1925, and a seismic upgrade was completed in 1961.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Japan sketchbook - 4

Switchback 26
Watercolour and crayon sketch
©2015 Charlene Brown

The next day we went up to the Toshugo Shrine at Nikko in the mountains north of Tokyo. The famously ornate Nikko Gate which, with its surrounding structures, would have made a great (and extremely difficult) panorama painting, has been under wraps for several months... but they have lots of other good stuff and we marveled at it all. My alternate ‘Nikko’ painting was better suited to a square format than to this sketchbook.  I wrote a blog post about it a couple of weeks ago. 

Our return to Tokyo via Lake Chuzenji at the top of the spectacular Kegon waterfall (three metres short of Niagara, 20 switchbacks up and 28 switchbacks down) was quite fantastic. This sketch shows the incredible number of switchbacks visible through the lacy interwoven evergreen and brilliant red foliage on our descent through the precipitous mountain forest.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Japan sketchbook - 3

Asakusa Temple
Watercolour, crayon and marker sketch
©2015 Charlene Brown

Next (and we are still talking about our first day here) was the magnificent Asakusa Temple as night fell... pure magic.  The original (Buddhist) temple, the oldest in Tokyo, was founded in 645 CE and a (Shinto) shrine was built within the precincts of the temple about a thousand years later. During World War II, the temple was bombed and destroyed, but was rebuilt later and is a symbol of rebirth and peace to the Japanese people. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Japan sketchbook - 2

(click on image to enlarge)

Meiji Shrine
Watercolour and crayon sketch
©2015 Charlene Brown

After our serene little interval in the Imperial Garden we were deemed good to go and toured the National Museum and the Edo/Tokyo History Museum before a late lunch. 

In mid-afternoon we visited the very popular Meiji Shrine.  It’s a huge place, so the fact that this was National Culture Day, and it is customary for families to bring five-year-old boys and seven-year-old girls, beautifully dressed in National costumes, to the most significant historic sites in Japan on weekends or holidays in November, only added to the enchantment and there was plenty of space for all of us.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Japan sketchbook - 1

Imperial East Garden in Tokyo
Watercolour, crayon and ink sketch
©2015 Charlene Brown

I’ve finally finished the ‘panorama format’ sketchbook paintings I started during our Art Gallery of Greater Victoria tour of Japan in early November. I'm scheduling them to be posted here between now and the end of the year – while we head south to meet our daughter and her family for Christmas in San Diego. (Yay!)

After what was for many of us the longest flight ever, our tour began with a leisurely stroll in the beautiful Imperial East Garden in the heart of Tokyo.  Initially I was taken aback by how green everything was, as I was looking forward to spectacular fall colours, but was assured by our guide that the season was much further along higher up in the mountains where we would be spending most of our time. 

I had brought along an array of orange and pink crayons, and did in fact find lots of applications for them, as you will see in a couple of days…

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Virtual Paintout in Ecuador

(click on image to enlarge)
Christmas in Baños de Agua Santa
Watercolour and crayon
Charlene Brown

The Virtual Paintout is in Ecuador this month. This seemed to offer a good chance of finding mountainous terrain to paint and I first headed for the capital, Quito, situated high in the Andes at an elevation of 2850 meters. 

The city is usually within sight of the spectacular Cayanbe Volcano… but the only views of Quito I could find were pretty hazy, so I headed down to Baños de Agua Santa, sometimes known as the  Gateway to the Amazon, as it is the last city still located in the mountains before reaching the jungle of the Amazon basin. The atmosphere was lovely there, and I thought this Streetviewwith the Christmas tree in the centre, was just right for a December painting.

Friday, December 4, 2015

My favourite places in Japan

(Click on image to enlarge)
Nikko Gate
Watercolour and crayon
©2015 Charlene Brown

It’s the torii gate before you reach the main part of the Nikko shrine. Torii gates are found on the approach or entrance to all Shinto shrines, marking the transition from the physical to the spiritual world. They are usually either unpainted or painted vermillion – and I think I prefer the unpainted ones, like this one at Nikko.

Having said that, I found upon my return from Japan that I took more photos of the thousands of vermillion torii gates at the Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto than just about any other place!  And one of the many sketches I started during my trip (and will paint some day soon) includes a couple of bright red torii gates in a village on Lake Ashi.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Virtual Paintout in Istanbul

(click on image to enlarge)
Firuz Ağa Mosque
Watercolour and crayon
Charlene Brown

After finding that good shots at the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are kind of hard to come by on Streetview (I even considered a `streetview` of the Blue Mosque from a ferry)  I had a look at the imposing Galata Tower on the Asian side of town, and almost tried this problematical streetview of it.   Then I just wandered until I happened upon this nicely composed view of the FiruzAğa Mosque as seen from the Mehmet Akif Ersoy Park

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Elegant Clean Energy Haiku VIII: Quantum Leap Haiku Illustration

Himeji Castle
t-shirt serigraph

This t-shirt I bought in Japan has a silk-screened design that is either the Japanese characters spelling out the words ‘Himeji Castle’ or a 17-shape haiga painting of the castle. Or both. I haven’t yet finished any of the paintings I started while I was in Japan, so I’ve added this design and the following quotations about haiku and haiga to the series of blog posts on Elegant Clean Energy Haiku I started on July 29 

“Both haiku and haiga translate nature through an artistic language with spiritual immediacy and selfless skill. This is achieved through Zen-like training in contemplation and technique. When the artist has reached the state of wu hsin (no-mind), a plane of mental relaxation and manual dexterity, Tao* can then take control and work through the artist’s hand and eye. This superconscious state is not to be confused with the subconscious swamp in which the surrealists find themselves.”  – On Haiku and Haiga: an essay, by Harold Stewart
 * Tao is a ‘path’ or process rather than a theory – a term used as a convention to refer to something that otherwise cannot be discussed in words.

“Haiku poet and haiga artist alike endeavored to eliminate every superfluous element and to attain an austere beauty, akin to that of abstract art...”  – Haiku Painting, by Leon Zolbrod

When the haiku writer and illustrator is a computer app, these essentially heuristic processes are going to have to be more algorithmic – well, totally algorithmic actually.  It should be possible to get around this apparent contradiction in terms through the provision for some manual input by the user.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Clean Energy Haiku V: Quantum Leap Haiku Illustration – Plan B

South American Terraces I & II
©2015 Charlene Brown

Remember the South American terrace paintings I mentioned in my September 2 blog post? 

In the pictures above they have been ‘abstracted’ by reducing the number and complexity of shapes in their composition. Reducing the complexity beyond the level of recognizability produces a non-representational design.

I hope to show that this design can evoke a quite different reality, especially when considered as a haiga, accompanied by a poem such as this enigmatic little computer-generated haiku:

Less is more for all
Now accelerate

This is where the ‘quantum leap’ I defined at the end of my September 23 post comes in… How far do you need to go beyond ‘recognizable’ to make that leap?  Further than South American Terraces II, I suspect. 

Plan B will continue... 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Another road test

(click on image to enlarge)
Panorama from Dallas Road
©2015 Charlene Brown

This is the view looking south from Dallas Rd. as it passes Beacon Hill Park here in Victoria.  The photo I used was taken in April when Beacon Hill, and every other Garry Oak meadow on southern Vancouver Island, is bright blue with camus flowers… and the grass is still green. We are in the ‘rain shadow’ of those mountains you can see across the Strait on the Olympic peninsula of Washington State.  Our summers are pretty dry, and grass is only green from October to May.

The panorama format of my new watercolour book is working okay here in Canada… we’ll see how it goes in Japan. (I’m taking some small square sheets as well.)

I have scheduled a series of posts about my Haiku project to be published on this blog while I’m away, and will be back toward the end of November with paintings of Japan.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Road-testing art supplies

Panorama from Moraine Lake Road
Watercolour and crayon
©2015 Charlene Brown
In preparation for my up-coming trip to Japan, I was going through my travel painting supplies, and realized I needed a new Carnet de Voyage (Arches Aquarelle® travel book, containing 15 coil-bound 6 x 10 inch sheets of watercolour paper). I went to the shop where I purchased my last three Carnets and the Millennials in charge had never heard of them, so I settled for a Strathmore® travel book (12 coil-bound 6 x 12 inch sheets). I’ve used Strathmore small sheet paper before, and have no problem with the brand, but found their book to be alarmingly less expensive than Arches, for only slightly less paper... I wondered if the paper might buckle under a splashy wash, or if the surface might not take masking fluid (neither of which I use much while traveling, but you never know)... I also had my doubts about the panorama format.
What better place to road-test my new panorama-format book than on a road? As it happens there is a more panoramic view of the peaks along the continental divide from this point on the road to Moraine Lake than from the lake itself, in the world-famous Valley of the Ten Peaks.  

The book holds up just fine to lots of water and masking fluid too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A memorable group shape

Boarders and Skiers at Lake Louise
Watercolour, ink and crayons
Charlene Brown (based on a photograph in the Globe & Mail)

The guidelines for adding figures to landscapes that I mentioned in my blog post about boarders and skiers at Park City, Utah  included the suggestion to look for connections between people in terms of relationships and body language and identify the big shape that is the group of people, rather than the shapes of individuals.

That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw this photo - the shape of the group.

The second thing I thought of was that when I was a kid learning to ski the then-new (and still regarded with awe) Banff Chairlift, if any of us had flopped into a chair like that, totally ignoring the safety bar and footplate, we’d have been sent packing back to the rope-tow.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Virtual Paintout in the Philippines

The Jones Bridge, Manilla
Watercolour and crayon
Charlene Brown

The Virtual Paintout is in the Philippines this month I looked for a ‘populated’ streetview again, and it was a lot easier to find groups of people out and about here than it was in Utah last month! Here is a link to this Streetview of the Jones Bridge in Manilla

And here is some interesting information I found on Wikipedia:
After floods damaged the original Puente de Espana on the Pasig River, construction of a replacement bridge was started in 1916 by the American Colonial government. It was named Jones Bridge after the principal author of the Philippine Autonomy Act of 1916. This ornate Neoclassical concrete arch bridge was bordered by pillars topped with a series of statues called La Madre Filipina. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by bombs during World War II.

After the war, the bridge was reconstructed by the American and Philippine governments under the Philippine Rehabilitation Act. The replacement span is relatively bare in design, but the three La Madre Filipina statues that had survived the bobing were preserved and moved to other locations in Manila. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Virtual Paintout still in Utah

(click on image to enlarge)
Boarders and Skiers at the Park City Mountain Resort
watercolour and crayon
©2015 Charlene Brown

Here’s another entry in the September Virtual Paintout. For a change, I decided to use a view with lots of people… and I soon discovered there was hardly anyone out standing around on the days the Google camera Streetviewed Utah! I finally found a little crowd at the base of one of the lifts at the Park City Mountain Resort just outside Salt Lake City. Here is the link to it

I’ve used some of the tips on a 2008 post on the highly-regarded art blog Making a Mark
  • look for connections between people in terms of relationships and body language
  • identify the big shape that is the group of people. If you can't see an edge then don't draw it.
  • make the connections between different zones more obvious. Overlap figures and objects to demonstrate who is in the foreground, the middle ground and background.
  • Avoid drawing faces and feet. (If you draw a likeness, then you should really obtain a model release.) Squint when you look at faces and then only draw what you can see - which will be values. You'll be surprised at how little detail there is. (I should mention that with Google Streetview, likenesses are not a concern – all faces are pretty consistently blurred out.) Feet are often drawn bigger than they actually are. Try to make them smaller then you want to (again not a concern here, as everyone has boots on.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Computer-generated Clean Energy Haiku

Peyto Lake

Here is what the three lines of haiku overlaid on the painting of Peyto Lake mean:

  1. The production of cement is said to be responsible for some six percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Is there a way to have cement production absorb more carbon dioxide than it emits, acting as a vehicle for carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS
  2. Environmental regulations may force development of new technology which will provide a competitive advantage by:
    • reducing pollution
    • improving  health
    • overcoming problems inherent in the adaptation of green technology – problems such as:
      • nuclear waste
      • intermittent or bad timing of renewable (eg solar) input
      • wind turbine noise pollution and higher costs
     3. Using the garbage: re-purposing, re-using or recycling (or the more recent up-cycling) materials which would be otherwise thrown out. ‘using’ garbage rather than just putting it somewhere is an environmental concept finally catching on across all sectors.

For the background illustrations (called haiga) to my computer-generated haiku, I have stylized some of my Canadian landscape paintings. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

On the road again

(click on image to enlarge)
Atacama desert

Watercolour and crayon

©2015 Charlene Brown

The Atacama Desert in Chile is another South American location on 'the road less traveled' that I read about in the Globe & Mail and posted paintings of on August 26 and September 2.

When I first found the images this painting is based on I thought the mountain was very much like a Chilean volcano (Osorno) that I computer-painted in 2003. But when I compared the finished painting of the volcano in the desert to Orsorno, I realized that, apart from a similar near-symmetry and being in the same country, the two have nothing in common. 

The Atacama desert is just over 100,000 sq. kilometers of virtually uninhabited, vegetation-free, stony terrain, salares (salt lakes), sand and felsic lava. The Puerto Varas region, on the other hand is a popular tourist destination, has a wonderful climate, Lianquihue – the second largest lake in Chile, other lakes which really are "the colour of the lakes in Banff National Park in Canada!" as our guide on a Holland America shore excursion had promised, and rose gardens as far as the eye can see.