Part 3: Summer 2008 to Fall 2009

Loose sketches done on location in the summer of 2009

Now that warmer days are back (summer of 2009) I've been getting out to sketch as much as my schedule will allow. I don't intend to put these up for sale, except as reproductions on cards over at my Zazzle store. Lately I've come to recognize the value of my old sketchbooks as a source of learning about my own style as it continues to evolve. No books out there can do that.

Most of these scenes are in part of Tokyo called "shita-machi" (can be translated lower town or under city) which is named because it was the low area around the castle. It has an old feeling which I love. I also live in Shita-machi and take great pride in wandering around and sketching it.

These sketches are all drawn in ink and then colored with watercolors. I used a brush pen and a fountain pen, both with Platinum waterproof carbon ink. Eventually, I started using only the brush pen for the later sketches and left the fountain pen at home. This tool is all I need for all aspects of line drawing including hatching. And you might notice I still can't draw a straight line, but then again, I wouldn't want to. Straight lines are boring.

edo castle

Edo Castle

Some of the detail of the buildings that make up Hirakawa Mon, one of several gates around Edo Castle, which now serves as a home for the emperor.

I sketched this in an F0 size spiral bound sketchbook (14 cm X 18 cm or 5.5 X 7 inches) made by Muse, called "White Watson." It was drawn with brush and ink (Kuretake brush pen with Platinum carbon ink (for pens) and colored with watercolor using a waterbrush.

Old building in Jimbocho

This old building caught my eye as I was walking to the station from the sketch above (if you know the area, you'll notice it was a bit of a long walk).

I started this sketch on one day and finished it the next time I was in the area. I love this part of town, so it was only about a week before I was back there. I stood for this one since I was on a busy street corner.

This is in the same sketchbook as the one above, and done with the same tools.

Fuji mound of Shimokamata

This mound of what appears to be volcanic rock was built to resemble Mt. Fuji back during the Edo era so that those who could not go and climb the real thing could at least have the same "spiritual experience" this one (according to the plaque next to it). it's near Mizue station on the Shinjuku line.

This is in the same sketchbook as the ones above, and done with the same tools. I sat on my Walkstool for this one. It took one hour.

Shinto Shrine near Hamacho station

This is an old srhine which is now surrounded by a park near Hamacho station in Tokyo

This is in a larger F3 size sketchbook (basically 9X11 inches) and done with the same tools as the other sketches on this page. I sat on my Walkstool for this one, and it took about an hour and a half.

Sushi Shop in Ningyo-cho

I was wandering around an old neighborhood in Tokyo called Ninyo-cho (Doll Town) and came across this old sushi shop. So I sketched it.

This is in the F0 sketchbook, and done with the same tools as the others above. This took about an hour and a half. I stood for the ink drawing but then sat on my stool for the coloring.

Old Shop in Kinshicho

Kinshicho is a colorful part of town near my home, about 15 minutes away by bicycle. This old shop on a back street caught me eye. It was Sunday afternoon and this shop was closed, but the absence of signs made me believe it had been shut down for a long time.

Those rectangular things next to the windows contain steel panels which slide over the windows to protect them from typhoons. They are also in place every night when it gets dark, even in fine weather.

This is in the same sketchbook as the ones above, and done with the same tools. I was in a narrow alley with no sidewalk, so I stood the whole time. I didn't record the time but it probably took an hour and a half which seems to be my norm lately.

Choya Shimbun

Here is a sketch that should have been impossible. First, it was a rainy day, and yet I was able to sit comfortably in front of this building. Second, this building was in the center of Ginza, one of Tokyo's most popular and crowded locations, and the spot where I was sitting would have normally been the middle of a busy street. Finally, this building was the office of the Choya Newspaper, which came to an end in 1894 and is no longer there (the landmark, Wako building sits on that site now).

Okay, enough teasing. This is a full size replica that is on display in the Edo-Tokyo museum. One added benefit was that the lighting remained constant! I reluctantly went to this museum when I discovered it was raining, but was happy I did. That morning I had already missed the solar eclipse because of the rain, but was still able to sketch an old building as I had planned.

There are several more old buildings in that museum, so I'm waiting for the next rainy sketch day to go back.

This is in the F0 sketchbook. This time I sat on a comfortable bench. It took an hour and 15 minutes.

I added the sky and background from imagination.

Akasaka Medical

This was on a back street near Kanda station in Tokyo. It was a very hot and sunny Saturday and I felt the sun might do me in. I wore a large brim hat as usual. I also had to wear sunglasses to keep the glare on the paper from blinding me.

This building housed both a restaurant on one side and a store called Akasaka Medical on the other. It was closed and shuttered on this day. I drew the shutters last just in case they opened the shop but they didn't.

This is in the a larger F3 sketchbook (basically 9X11 inches) and done with the same tools as the sketches above. I stood the whole time because there was no place to put my stool in the narrow alley. It took an hour and 30 minutes.

This is what I have come to call a "mountain subject" which can stand on its own without the background. The other type is a "valley subject" which is a part of its surroundings and can't be extracted. If this building was in the middle of a block and partially obstructed by trees or other buildings, it would have been a valley subject.


This is the great Kabuki theater in Ginza. They are going to demolish it and put up a newer, taller building on this site. Crying shame. I decided I'd better sketch it while I can, and some passers by echoed the same lament. Brush and ink plus watercolors in the same sketchbook as the one above.


Unagi Shop

Unagi is eel. This is an eel restaurant between Ueno and Nezu in the heart of Shita-machi in Tokyo. Lots of great old buildings here. This was a quiet neighborhood and I was able to set up my Walkstool in front of some steps leading to an old temple.

This is in the same F3 sketchbook. Lately I've been using this larger F3 sketchbook with a very small handheld watercolor box.

Very old shop in Nezu: Chojiya

Here's an old shop which has been around since the Meiji era according to the sign in front. It's called Chojiya and specializes in hand made fabrics such as tenugui (traditional handkerchiefs, much longer than the western version as well as bags. It's on a back street in the Nezu area which is full of old buildings.

This is in the a larger F3 sketchbook (basically 9X11 inches) and done with the same tools as the sketches above (brush pen and watercolors).

Nikko Station

This is Nikko Station which was built in 1915, and is the oldest train station in eastern Japan. It was designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright. I did this in my pocket Hand Book sketchbook, sitting on my Walkstool. I knew it would rain soon (it had just stopped raining) so I quickly sketched this with brush and ink (Kuretake brush pen with Platinum Carbon Ink) and colored this on the spot with watercolors until the rain started to fall again.

Very old building in Nikko

This is a big old shop and restaurant which was built in the late 1800s. It's at the top of the hill on the main street in Nikko just before you cross the river to go to the big temple areas. I did this the next time it stopped raining which was two days after the sketch above! When I finished this one it started to rain again so I went inside this building for lunch. It's in my F3 sketchbook and I left space at the bottom and right for my hand to rest. All my sketches in this sketchbook are in the same area on the upper left part of the page. I may fill the white space with notes later. This sketch took three hours, which is at least twice the amount of time I usually spend on a sketch.

This time I remembered to take a photo of the ink drawing before I added color. All the ink work was done with a brush (Kuretake brush pen), even the hatching. Lately I've been leaving my fountain pen at home and have been sketching only with the brush pen. It's much harder this way, but I love the lively feel of brushed lines; no two lines are alike.

Old Neighborhood Shrine

Here's a sketch of an old small neighborhood Shinto shrine hidden away on a back street that is difficult to find. I came upon it by accident, and am not sure if I could find it again. As I sketched, an occasional visitor would walk up to this, bow, and then go on his or her way.

This is in the a larger F3 sketchbook (basically 9X11 inches) and done with the same tools as the sketches above (brush pen and watercolors).

Again, remembered to take a photo of the ink drawing before I added color. All the ink work was done with a brush (Kuretake brush pen), including the hatching.

Soba restaurant near Toranomon

Here's an old soba restaurant near Toranomon station which is basically south of the Edo castle compound. I usually sketch around the area north or east of the Edo castle area, but I was to meet friends that evening in this area so I explored a bit till I found this old building. Since it was on a street corner, I parked my stool on the opposite corner and had a clear view of the top portion, while the bottom portion was often blocked by traffic and pedestrians waiting for the traffic light to change. When it did, I concentrated on the bottom part while it was visible. This was done in brush and ink (Kuretake brush pen with Platinum carbon ink). I made a 7 minute under drawing lightly in pencil and then spent an hour and twenty minutes drawing it in ink. Then I took a photo for color reference and I colored it later at home with watercolor and a waterbrush.

This is in the a larger F3 sketchbook (basically 9X11 inches) and done with the same tools as the sketches above (brush pen and watercolors).

Since I didn't paint on the spot, I had plenty of time to take a photo of the ink drawing before I added color.

People in my Pocket Sketchbook

I am still sketching in my pocket sketchbook as well. These days I am carrying an Hand Book Artist Journal by Global Art Materials Inc. It's the same size as a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, but has many more pages and comes in vertical (portrait) format. The paper is not as white or as nice as the Moleskine, but much easier to hold than the awkward horizontal format of the Moleskine. That awkward size compromises my ability to draw, so I switched to the Hand Book. For a review of both sketchbooks see my article, Sketching with a Moleskine

Here is one page from that sketchbook, which is mostly a collection of people I see on the train.

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