Plein Air Street Scenes from Kyoto Japan


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GionKyoto2Entering the streets of Gion, Kyoto is definitely taking a step back in to ancient history where exquisite wood storefronts, elegant teahouses, traditional street lanterns and silk kimonos line every street. This is a place where you can become completely immersed in the past, as “Geiko” (Kyoto’s Geisha) enter in and out of hidden alleyways with many a photographer waiting for the perfect photoshoot. Japan opened its doors to the world after the Meiji Restoration (a term which refers to both the events of 1868 that led to the restoration of power and the reign name of the emperor of Japan from 1867 to 1912). In 1854 Japan submitted to foreign demands and signed treaties that ended its isolation.
When you think of it, in the great span of history there really hasn’t been a lot of time since Japan opened its doors to foreigners. We marvel at the culture so well-preserved amidst modern day developments. And that is Japan – a marvelous blend of old and new.
I have enjoyed painting plein-air in the narrow streets of Gion, where despite the Kyoto summer heat and crowds that flood along the main passageways you can find little shaded and quiet alleys full of beautiful architecture, wood textures, colorful lanterns and traditional dress. Like any place of inspirational beauty you feel like you could spend a lifetime painting there.
As with any street scene it is often difficult to determine the horizon line that lies behind buildings. The easiest way to reference the horizon line is to know that as we stand at street level, our eye intersects it. In narrow passageways we generally only need one vanishing point on the horizon line to draw all the receding lines of buildings, etc. If there are no figures in the scene you can easily determine from a doorway where a figure might be. Using familiar references such as doorways or vehicles gives us a good idea of scale.
Exaggerating light sources and cast shadows also fills the scene with life, so as the day passes it is helpful to draw and paint all the main passages and details and take note of the shadows as they change. There might be one part of the day where the shadows create beautiful patterns and shapes that support the overall composition. I find it helpful to take a photograph for reference. Flood those shadows in at the end!

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