Part 3: Summer 2008 to Fall 2009

Autumn of 2009: Postcard Sketch Binders Substitute for Moleskine

I found a perfect solution to the Moleskine watercolor dilemma. As you may know, I was frustrated with their horizontal format and switched to Handbook sketch journals, but the Handbook paper tends to feather the ink lines. Then I discovered a slim postcard binder which will hold 24 postcards on facing pages in clear sleeves. It is more slim that a Moleskine and the postcard format (100 x 148 mm or 3 15/16 x 5 13/16 inches) gives a little more drawing surface while easily fitting in the hip pocket. Now I had the freedom to choose from an amazing variety of sketch postcards which are available in Japan thanks to a long running postcard sketch boom. I could also cut sheets of A4 paper into quarters.

The binder was plastic (comes in a choice of black, red, blue or green) and just not as classy as a Moleskine. But fortunately, the postcard format is also A6 format (basically 4 x 6 inches). A6 is a standard paperback book size in Japan which means I has access to a wide selection of book covers as well.

Japanese do not want other people to know what they are reading on the crowded trains, so there is a big demand for nice cloth or leather book covers. I found a nice traditional Japanese cloth book cover decorated with brushed drawings which provides a little inspiration. Now everyone assumes I'm reading a paperback book on the train when I'm actually sketching them.

I started using postcards for both my sketches of subway passengers and my scenes when I wander around Tokyo. And I keep them all with me in my pocket wherever I go so I can show people who are interested (well, I keep the failed sketches at home, which means I'm more willing to take a risk and experiment!)

Like most of my recent sketches, are all drawn in Platinum Carbon ink with a Kuretake brush pen ink and then colored with watercolors.

Postcard Subway Sketches

Here are a few of my recent postcard sketches on the subway as they appear in my new binder:

I drew the man on the right page some time after I drew the girl. He wasn't a giant holding a tiny passenger captive.

Here are some postcard size sketches done on location around Tokyo. Some of them may be available for sale on my Art Work for Sale page:


Sakuradamon Gate of the Imperial Palace (formerly Shogun Castle) in Tokyo. One of the more famous gates, being the scene of the assassination of Ii Naosuke during the turbulent time at the end of the Edo era. I've sketched this gate many times in the past.

Restaurant in Mukojima

Old restaurant in Mukojima, Tokyo, part of Shita-machi. This is a very typical scene in old neighborhoods, where tiny family run restaurants with limited menus serve the community. The store front is covered with colorful signs advertising beer, whisky and sake. At night these places are more pubs than restaurants.

Old Fish Shop in Mukojima

Old Fish shop in Mukojima, Tokyo. This is in the old part of Tokyo, part of Shita-machi. I was able to set up my stool across the street for this one. Like most shita-machi shops, there are lots of flowers out front which tend to hide some the deterioration.

Old Sushi Shop in Machiya

Old sushi shop in Machiya, Tokyo. This is in the old part of Tokyo, part of Shita-machi. The owner, his wife, and several neighbors came out periodically to see how the sketch was coming along. I often get complimentary green tea while I'm sketching restaurants, and I let the owner take digital photos of the finished sketch. There was no place to set up my stool so I stood the whole time, about two hours and 40 minutes.

Old Shop in Asakusa

Old shop in the south part of Asakusa, Tokyo. This is in the old part of Tokyo, part of Shita-machi. For a long time I have wanted to sketch this old landmark. I'm still not sure what they sell. By the time I finished the sketch they were already closed, and it was still morning. The middle character on the sign is not part of current Japanese. There is a symbol of eel (unagi) on all the signs so I suspect it is an eel shop.

Soba Shop in Kameido

Old soba shop on a back street in Kameido, Tokyo, part of Shita-machi. Like most neighborhood shops, the owner's family lives in the same building, above the shop (one story buildings have the residence in the back). You can see the futons (bed mats) being aired in the morning sun from the second story veranda -- also a very typical scene in Tokyo.

Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Tokyo

This is the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church in Japan. It is in the Ochanomizu area and is clearly the most beautiful church in Tokyo where there is not very much competition as far as church architecture. Naturally I've sketched it many times. In Japanese it is usually referred to as "Nikolai-do" (Nicholai Hall) after St. Nicholai Kasatkin who inaugurated Orthodoxy in Japan. It sits on a hill and back in the days before high rise office buildings, it used to dominate the skyline. It was completed in 1891 and restored after the great Kanto Earthquake which destroyed the dome and interior.

I sketched this in early December on a perfect autumn day. I believe the leaves were at their peak. Later I went inside for a short time of quiet prayer.

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