Davy Crockett as a raccoon. This is one of many quick sketches I made of Davy Crockett in raccoon form (a silly twist on the Crockett legend, since he’s famous for wearing a coonskin hat) in preparation for a larger piece I plan on working on in the next few days. It’s been a while since I’ve worked on something purely personal, so this should be fun.
After exiting the Shinkansen we made our way around Kyoto station trying to figure out how to get our heavy luggage shipped to Kansai airport so we wouldn’t have to lug it around during our temple stay at Shunkoin. Inexplicably (for Japan at least) there seemed no way to do this, so instead we settled for leaving our luggage in Japan’s ubiquitous storage lockers overnight. A short train ride and walk later and we were at the beautiful Shunkoin temple, which resides in the Myoinji temple complex. The temple stay was one of the highlights of our Japan trip,and the accompanying Zen meditation and tour of the temple the next day is a cultural experience that any visitor to Kyoto shouldn’t miss. The sketch above was painted in the early morning of our last day in Japan. It had started snowing and I sat down underneath a hut facing the temple’s graveyard with my penbrush in hand. Afterwards I borrowed one of the Temples bikes to explore the area and buy bread from the local bakery.
This second sketch was actually penned the night before, in the sitting area outside our room. I put it second because frankly I liked the first sketch better.
This was one of the last sketches I penned in Kyoto. Aissa and I biked through the cold, snowy weather to ryoanji temple, made famous for a rock garden with 15 stones that are supposed to grant wisdom to those who can unlock their secrets. This sketch was not of those stones, but another random landscaped area in front of the temple. We’d sat down for a bit to rest and since I’d found another rubber stamp it was a sure sign that I had to sketch something. It was in this temple that we discovered an until now unnamed triangular rice cake that tasted so amazing Aissa had to buy a box right there. Sadly, we were to find out later that these souvenirs were quite common and even cheaper once you got to the airport.
It’s been almost three weeks since we arrived from our honeymoon Japan and not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about (earthquakes and tsunamis and nuclear reactors notwithstanding) going back. Looking back at the trip through these sketches has been enjoyable for me, as I hope it has been for my (five) readers.
The past week or so has been pretty busy for me. That and constantly refreshing google news to update myself on the Japanese quake/tsunami/budding nuclear disaster has kept me from revisiting these sketches for a while. These were sketched during our Shinkansen (bullet train) ride from Tokyo to Kyoto. We managed to get a Puratto Kodama* ticket thanks to the translation powers of our friend Raffy, and eagerly awaited our first ride on the famous train. While waiting we noticed that there were some Sumo Wrestlers waiting in the same area of the station as us. Turns out they were seated right in front of us on the train, which was great for me because it led to what is by far my favorite sketch of the entire trip. I’m very rarely pleased with my work, but this one seemed just perfect to me, with smooth, flowing lines and an economy of information presented on the page. In short, everything that needed to be in the sketch was there, and nothing more. Unfortunately I went over it again in gray marker after I got home, and I think I ruined it by shading in the armrest. It breaks up the boundary between the Sumo and the chair, such that the armrest and the Sumo’s backside (which is in shadow) start to blend into each other.
I think part of the reason why the lines on the Sumo Sketch were so confident was because I made lost of preliminary sketches beforehand, unlike the rest of my previous Japan sketches. There was a lot more time to kill on the Shinkansen so I didn’t feel too rushed, and by the time I made the final sketch I’d already built an image in my mind of what I wanted to portray, and my muscles were loose enough to allow me to capture the image exactly as I wanted to. In any case, these are the first sketches of the Sumo. Noticed that his head seems out of place? That’s because in real life, my view of him had the chair covering most of his face. Since that was kind of boring to draw, I tried playing around with the image so that more of his face was showing, which really didn’t work out at all.
It’s traditional on long train rides to bring a bento with you to eat on the train. Aissa and I picked up a couple of boxes on the train station (both seafood based, I couldn’t tell you exactly what was in them aside from Unagi). One thing that strikes me about the Japanese culture is the emphasis they place on presentation. Even the most minor items are packaged carefully and beautifully, so I decided to render the bento packaging. I quite liek this one as well, which I think was a combination of fountain pen and pen brush. I finally got to use the red pen brush here, which helps the label on the bento box really stand out.
*The Puratto Kodama is the cheapest way to get reserved seats on the shinkansen, and also the cheapest way green car (business class) seats. Our green car seats cost us 11,300 yen per person, while normal JR rates are 17,860 yen. They seem to be seasonal though, so make sure do your research ahead of time to make sure they’re available.
After having worked on numerous iPhone games with different clients, I’ve often dreamed of making an iPhone/Android game that’ll hit the iTunes Jackpot and finance my dreams of world travel/domination. In order to move that dream forward, I’ll be attending this day and half workshop sponsored by Autodesk on March 28-29. The event is free and is targeted towards:
- Mobile Gaming developers
- Prior experience or success in game development
- Freelancers for agencies and post production house
Do let me know if any of you are attending so we can meet up there!
We took an overnight bus from Osaka to go to Tokyo after the tiring day at Mount Koya. The bus company we chose was Willer Express, who offer a variety of different bus types. I chose the business class seats because I’m not exactly fond of sleeping on moving vehicles, so I might as well be comfortable. We arrived in Tokyo around 7:45 near Ikebukuro station. Since our hotel only opens up at 9:30 we’d decided to go to Ueno park, and have breakfast somewhere in the area. We settled on Pronto cafe, where this sketch was done.
These two sketches were done at different times. The first one was after we’d checked in at the hotel and showered and rested. This is in Hibiya Park near the Imperial Palace, where there stand a marker and bust of Jose Rizal. Unfortunately that day we were unable to find him, although we did succeed on our last day in Tokyo. This sketch was one of my most half hearted ones because I’d made a mistake in rendering the leaves properly and I didn’t have the energy to really go back and fix them.
The sketch on the right was actually done two days later, on our last full day in Tokyo. We wanted to check out the Tokyo National Museum (partly because it was raining out and we wanted to stay warm and dry) so we headed back to Ueno where we had one of the cheapest breakfast meals we had in Japan, a 390 Yen breakfast meal (a sandwich and coffee) at Becks cafe in Ueno station. That’s where I did this quick sketch of a Japanese salaryman having a power breakfast.
I’m not sure why we ended up in the National Museum of Western art instead of TNM, but it was an excellent decision because paintings by such luminaries as Manet, Monet, Courbet, Pissarro, Picasso, etc. were on display there. While these aren’t Japanese at all, they are the closest we’ll get to seeing painting like that till we go to Europe in like, 20 years. We just barely missed out on a Rembrandt exhibition, which was too bad. The sketches on the left were of the cast replicas of statues by Rodin, most famous for “The Thinker”.
After Western art we decided to go to our original breakfast destination, the Tsukiji Fish Market. The stalls bordering the Market have the freshest seafood on hand since they get them straight from the source. The sheer number of fresh food on display was sensory overload, and we would have had a hard time picking a stall to have lunch in had I not read a blog post about Tsukiji Donburi Ichiba. This sketch is the rare exception to the general rule that we ate our food too quickly for me to make a sketch of it. However, even this is kind of a cheat since I based this off a picture at the stall and not the actual chirashi don that we ate. Take a look at this and tell me you would have been able to restrain yourself from attacking that bowl for more than 30 seconds.
Mount Koya or Koyasan is a UNESCO world heritage site little known outside of Japan. I had no idea what it was at the time I decided to visit it, I know knew that it was the farthest our Surutto Kansai pass could take us from Osaka, thus making sure our purchase of the pass was worth it. It was quite an experience however, since it brought us to a part of Japan rarely frequented by tourists. The farther away we got from the steel and concrete of Osaka the more buildings started becoming built primarily out of wood, such as the smaller train stations we passed by. It’s a full day trip, and the train ride there, transfers included, took us almost 2 hours, which meant lots of people sleeping on trains sketches, seen above.
At the last station before the cablecar up Mt. Koya, I decided to step out into the cold and paint a quick sketch of the train station from the outside. It was a beautiful scene straight out of a Miyazaki film, with a babbling brook and a tiny roads and mountain paths leading to the town and a quaint little train station on the horizon. I failed miserably at capturing it and I wish that I’d taken a picture so you could all share it with me. My only excuse was that it was ridiculously cold at the time (especially since we’d gone uphill steadily) and I’d had to remove my gloves to have any measure of control over what I was painting, so after a bout ten minutes or so my right hand was starting to go numb.
The mountaintop was even colder, but we were rewarded with what might be the most expansive Buddhist graveyard in Japan. Graves in Japan range from the simple to the fantastic, such as this grave, of a Japanese rocket scientist. As I mentioned before I used stamps in Japan as a motivation for me to sketch, and so even though it was bitterly cold (there was snow on the mountaintop) I sat my ass down on one of the temples we went to and sketched some boddhisatvas. I used the penbrush for the last two sketches because it forced me to not pay too much attention to detail (which is good because I was faster and could stuff my hand back in my glove sooner).
On our third day in Japan we went to Kobe, a port city in Japan most recently known for its melt in your mouth beef and the earthquake that hit it almost a decade and a half ago. We took another train from Osaka on the Hanshin Line to go to Kobe. It’s about an hour to get there, depending which train you take, which meant ample opportunity to sketch people on the trains, as seen above. This was the first time I used the gray brush pen I bought (to give more weight to the bars around the seat), and instantly saw myriad ways with which I could use it
Before getting off at central Kobe we got off in Mikage to go to the Hakutsuru Brewery Museum. Mikage is one of the areas within Nada district which is well known for brewing sake. According to this website, they produce a little over a quarter of all the sake brewed in Japan. I chose the Hakutsuru Brewery because it was relatively close to the station and it had both English brochures and guides as well as free tastes at the end of the tour. The Museum itself was small but very informative, with lifesize dioramas of traditional sake brewing techniques. The sketch above is a diorama of a typical scene in a Japanese inn a few centuries ago, where the final product of the brewery would be consumed. I think picking a museum with free tastes was definitely a good choice. I’m not really a sake person and would have had no idea what to buy if we’d gone to another museum, but after trying their sake and fruit wines we knew exactly which ones we’d be taking home (we bought one bottle of their premium sake, which has since been consumed by friends, and a bottle of plum wine).
The sketch on the right is a quickie of a train station we were waiting in to board the Kobe train. I almost wanted to leave it out because it’s really not very well done, but a lot of the informative text was on that page.
Kobe was one of the few port cities open to foreigners when Japan was opening up to the world. It therefore had and continues to have a very cosmopolitan vibe, and more importantly for tourists, a heritage area of old foreign houses or “ijin-kan”. We got lost trying to find these houses in Kobe’s Kitano district and most of them were closed by the time we got there. We did manage to get inside one, the Moegi house, which was the former residence of H. Sharp, an American consul in . The sketch here is of the outside of the house, with a bench that has a brass sculpture of a man playing the saxophone. I’m not sure what the historical significance of these statues is, but there are a number of them scattered around a small park area that seems to be the center of the Kitano district.
By the way, if you’re interested in checking out our pictures of Japan (including the Kobe beef) you can look at our Flickr account here.
A sketch and helpful info on brush pens, which were done in between our trips to Nara and Kobe. Above you can see some notes on the different brush pens and fountain pens I bought at a Daiso 100 Yen store in Nara. I almost went nuts when i saw their selection of cheap brush pens, and felt a little bad I’d spent so much on the pen from the old man in Nara. After opening up all of my goodies and testing them out it turns out the old man’s pen was a pretty good deal.
Any brush pen that is 150 Yen or below is more likely to be a “brush marker”, in that the “brush” is made of the same material as a marker but shaped to a finer tip, in order to simulate a brush. When using it, I find it very hard to distinguish between it and a regular marker. Two of the brush pens I bought were like that.
I was also interested in getting fountain pens, because my own fountain pen was running out of ink and I forgot to bring along spare cartridges. The Riviere fountain pen is quite a deal at this price, as it replaced my more expensive Parker fountain Pen (bought for 700 pesos, as opposed to the Riviere’s 60 pesos when roughly converted to pesos) quite admirably. It has a tendency to leak though, so I didn’t get any more cartridges for it and will probably go back to the Parker.
The most interesting pen of the bunch was also a “brush marker” but it was different because it had gray ink. This worked out surprisingly well in my future sketches, adding a bit more depth to my ink drawings. Ultimately the pen I bought from the old man in Nara was the better deal. I never was able to find that brand of pen again, so if we ever get to go back I will definitely look him up again.
This sketch was done while having a buffet breakfast in the New Oriental Hotel. My review of the New Oriental Hotel has yet to be published in Tripadvisor, but if you’re going to be in Osaka and on a budget, it’s hard to beat NOH’s sub 5000 Yen price tag for a room with ensuite bathrooms and a buffet breakfast. Anyway, the man on the lower left corner caught my eye because he reminded me of a stereotypical beatnik (turtleneck, manicured goatee and mustache, round glasses). I don’t know why, but feel like I have a memory of this look being trendy in Japan a few years back, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why I’d know that.
On our second full day in Japan we went to Nara, one of the former capitals of Japan (read about Japan long enough and you’ll start to think EVERY city was once a capital of Japan). We had a Surutto Kansai 3 day pass so getting there from Osaka was a breeze. Our first stop, which was 5 minutes away from the Kintetsu Nara station, was the Kokufu-ji temple complex (note: very loosely, ji means temple and jo means castle in Japanese) and the sketch above is of the 3 pagoda temple in the complex. The Japanese characters on the left were from stamps found at the 2 pagoda temple. I believe they’re meant to be prayer stamps (ie stamp what you want to pray for on a piece of paper and hang it on a tree) but like a disrespectful gaijin I went ahead and used them to decorate my sketch. Sorry Japan. 😦
There’s a much larger 5 pagoda temple in the complex, as well as a building housing some really spectacular ancient statues oh ashura and other boddhisatvas. Unfortunately photos and even sketches (first time I’ve ever encountered that) were not allowed in the building housing the statues.
The sketch on the left was one of the lanterns flanking the main entrance of the daibutsu-den in Todai-ji, which holds the massive daibutsu (literally “large buddha”) of Nara which is almost 50 meters tall. Unfortunately I don’t have any sketches of the daibutsu, mostly because I was just so overawed by its scale that I think I’d have to spend an entire day there just to make sure I got it right. After the Daibutsu we wandered around Nara for a bit until we found a small row of shops mostly maintained by elderly folk. A very nice old gentleman sold me a portable pen-brush with two tips for 525 Yen. I thought it was pricey at the time but bought it anyway because he was so genuinely kind and I’m a sucker for nice old people (conversely, I really hate cranky old people who use their old age as a crutch for being vicious towards anyone below 80). Turns out later on that it was probably the best brush pen I bought in Japan, but more on that later.
The sketch on the upper right side was just a random scene in Nara that I gravitated towards while we were resting our feet on a park bench. I was excited to try out the pen brush so after laying down some outlines with a fountain pen I wen over it with the brush to give it more depth. This is one of the sketches I’m most pleased with during this trip. I quite liked the sketches of two men sleeping on the train back to Osaka in the lower right page as well. These were done purely using the brush pen (both thick and thin sides), and they have a much more fluid feel to them from something laid out with a fountain pen.