Monthly Archives: May 2014

Daughter of Kyoto

Daughter of Kyoto Portrait of Katsuyuki on the day of her erikae, drawn in coloured pencils with some oil pastels. 355 x 535 mm, May 2014.

Daughter of Kyoto
Portrait of Katsuyuki on the day of her erikae, drawn in coloured pencils with some oil pastels. 355 x 535 mm, May 2014.


Art journal extract: 13 January 2011 “A couple of days ago I did something really crazy.  I booked a trip to Kyoto, leaving in just over a fortnight from now, to see Katsuyuki’s erikae.  [An erikae is the day when a maiko becomes a geiko or geisha.]  Has anybody ever travelled from Australia to Kyoto just to see an erikae – especially when one is just an anonymous street photographer like me?  Matthew told me I could use frequent flyer points.  Lucy was encouraging me to go.  When I wrote to Alicia she replied that for Katsuyuki she would expect nothing less than a trip to Kyoto.  So in the end I just booked it.”

30th January 2011:  “What a luxury!  It is 4.30 pm and I am airborne, having just flown out of Perth on SQ226 to Singapore.  I wrote a quick email to L [my New York friend] earlier in the day to tell her I was leaving.  She sent me a photo of the exact okiya [maiko/geiko house] which Katsuyuki will exit from.  She said that I should be there from 10.30am and that I would see many other maiko and geiko going to pay their respects.  I wrote a card to M [my Kyoto friend] to thank him for his help and bought him a small present from Perth airport.”

31 January 2011:  “I saw Katsuyuki and she looked exquisite in sakkou [the outfit a maiko wears in the weeks and days BEFORE she becomes a geiko] but the photos I took were awful.  Some were blurred and in ALL the light was wrong.  I didn’t have any time to get the exposures right so I just shot and hoped.  What a disappointment!  I DID so want to take good photos of Katsuyuki.  Of course I’ll have lots more chances tomorrow.”

2nd February 2011:  “KATSUYUKI’S ERIKAE!  I was one of the first photographers to wait outside Katsuyuki’s okiya.  I was there at 10 which is ridiculous but I didn’t have anything better to do.  Got some good shots of various maiko while I waited.  An enormous number of photographers showed up.  Eventually M [my friend] turned up too and we exchanged news.  When Katsuyuki finally showed, she was worth waiting for.  She was magnificent; she looked regal and beautiful.  She was marvellously relaxed, glowing with quiet confidence.  Her otokoshi* [the person who accompanies her on the walk around Gion] was entertaining and humorous.  We all followed them around for about two exhausting hours.  Of course in that time I got terrific photos.”

3rd February 2011:  [The second day of the erikae; the new geiko, Katsuyuki, walks  around Gion paying respects to her community while wearing a different kimono from the previous day.]  “Katsuyuki appeared today in a powder blue kimono ensemble.  There were not nearly so many photographers as yesterday so it felt quite intimate and relaxed.  I felt, being part of a small group, that we were somehow supporters of Katsuyuki.  She was asked to pose near Shimbashi.  I was standing slightly away from the photographic group at this point.  Katsuyuki was smiling at the main group.  Then a kind man suggested she look at me.  So she turned and gave me a lovely smile.  I took a photo.”   (next image)

Photograph of Katsuyuki as she turned to smile at me.

Photograph of Katsuyuki as she turned to smile at me.

Observation My drawing of Katsuyuki on day two of her erikae observing a white heron in the Shirakawa stream.

My drawing of Katsuyuki on day two of her erikae.  She was observing a white heron in the Shirakawa stream.

4th February 2011:  “The journey home has begun.  I am sitting on Haruka no 5 [the Kansai Airport Express train] with ten minutes until departure.  Two words describe this short February trip to Kyoto: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.  I am determined to do a drawing of Katsuyuki.  My cup runneth over.  Whatever vessel inside me needed filling up, it certainly has reached capacity now.  I don’t think I’ll be able to remove Japan from my heart.  It is stuck there.”

Back to the present:  I drew Katsuyuki in her powder blue kimono in September 2013.  The post I wrote about that drawing is called “Observation“.   I have finally drawn her (May 2014) wearing the formal black kimono which she wore on the day of her 2011 erikae.  It is over three years since that trip but time doesn’t matter.  A drawing is born when it is ready to be, even if it is long after the original photo was taken.

Would I ever go to Kyoto just to see another erikae?  Yes.  I would go for Satsuki.  So if anybody finds out when her erikae will be, please let me know!

*The same otokoshi who accompanied Katsuyuki also supported Kiyono during her misedashi (first day as a maiko).  You will find him in my post  A Girl’s Best Friend.

Note:   In last week’s post “An Exceptional Day in Gion” you can see some of my older drawings of Katsuyuki when she was a maiko.  Notice how different her hairstyle was in those maiko drawings from these geiko drawings.  A maiko has her own hair styled but a geiko wears a wig (called a katsura).  A katsura is liberating for a geiko for she does not have to keep her own hair in perfect maiko style 24/7 any more…(though it must be hot to wear in summer)!

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An Exceptional Day in Gion

Two Girls in Gion Coloured pencil drawing, 2007.

Two Girls in Gion
Coloured pencil drawing of Katsuyuki, 2007.

On Saturday 29th September 2007 Lucy (youngest daughter) and I took the train from Kobe to Kyoto for an afternoon visit where we hoped, as always, to see maiko and geiko to photograph.  Matthew (husband) and Alicia (middle daughter), who were not so enthralled at such a prospect, went shopping in Osaka instead.   As Lucy and I glided towards Kyoto on the Nozomi Super-Express, we could not imagine what riches Kyoto had in store for us that day.

Travel finished (train and taxi), we set ourselves up outside Ichiriki tea-house in Gion.   We didn’t have to wait long before a businesslike young maiko (Katsuyuki) rushed past.  The drawing at the top of the page is a record of this encounter.  Soon afterwards we saw a young lady in a kimono (not a maiko or geiko) being photographed at the entrance to Ichiriki tea house.  I took photos but didn’t think I would draw her because she wasn’t a maiko.   However a few months later I changed my mind.   I called the drawing “Kyoto Chic”.

Kyoto Chic Coloured pencil drawing, 2008.

Kyoto Chic
Coloured pencil drawing, 2008.

While the young lady in the kimono was being photographed, the first maiko I had seen (Katsuyuki)  returned and chatted to her.  The pair were soon joined by a second maiko.  It was hard to get photos because suddenly there was a crowd of people also trying to photograph the fabulously-attired threesome.   “The Feminine Mystique” is my drawing of the second maiko (Mameyuri) as she posed with and talked to her colleagues.

The Feminine Mystique 2008 Coloured pencil drawing of Mameyuri.

The Feminine Mystique
2008 Coloured pencil drawing of Mameyuri.

Lucy and I were ecstatic.  We were getting good photos and having a wonderful time.  Eventually the three girls wandered away.  We stayed in the area for a while longer but then decided to meander north up Hanamikoji dori to the Shirakawa stream which is another area in Gion where one may encounter maiko and geiko.  With its weeping willows and historic wooden buildings, it is a charming part of Kyoto.

Can you believe how our eyes widened (and jaws dropped) as we saw that Katsuyuki and Mameyuri were having a photoshoot at the Shirakawa stream!!!  This was manna from heaven.  For the next hour or so Lucy and I put on our invisible cloaks; that is, we tried not to get in the way or be noticed.   We stayed with the small group of photographers who had undoubtedly paid a handsome sum to have this session with the two maiko.  If they had asked us to leave we would have but nobody seemed to mind two interlopers.   I wanted material for new drawings hence I was determined to stay as long as I could.  You see, usually one has seconds to grab a photo of a passing maiko or geiko.  Imagine having as long as you want while two maiko parade and pose amongst Kyoto’s most beautiful scenery.

Now I will show you the rest of the drawings I made from this window of opportunity.

Les Papillons Coloured pencil drawing of Mameyuri and Katsuyuki, 2008

Les Papillons
Coloured pencil drawing of Mameyuri and Katsuyuki, 2008

Gift Wrapped Coloured pencil drawing of Mameyuri and Katsuyuki, 2008.

Gift Wrapped
Coloured pencil drawing of Mameyuri and Katsuyuki, 2008.  This is a favourite of mine.

La Belle Epoque Coloured pencil drawing of Katsuyuki, 2010

La Belle Epoque
Coloured pencil drawing of Katsuyuki, 2010

Mameyuri-san Coloured pencil drawing, 2013.

Coloured pencil drawing, 2013.

Kyoto a la Mode Coloured pencil drawing of Katsuyuki and Mameyuri.

Kyoto à la Mode
Coloured pencil drawing of Katsuyuki and Mameyuri. 2010  My daugher, Lucy, took the photo for this drawing.

Some time later in the day after the photoshoot was finished, Katsuyuki walked past us again.  This time she didn’t look stern like the first time we saw her hours earlier.  She acknowledged us with a polite nod.  We called out our heartfelt thanks.  I thought of all the drawings to follow…

If you look at the dates of the drawings, you can see that I have drawn them over several years.  The drawing “Mameyuri-san” was only done last year.  Eight drawings from one afternoon is incredible.  It wasn’t until I got back to Australia and did some research on the internet that I found the names of the two maiko, Katsuyuki and Mameyuri.  Because I drew them so many times, I was interested in following their careers as maiko and then geiko.  Both became geiko eventually, however both have since retired and moved on to different lives.

In the following 15 months after our exceptional day in Gion, our family had some challenging health problems filled with medical procedures, operations and recuperations.  Working on the 2007/8 drawings gave me tremendous comfort during these months.  A point that I haven’t made in my posts before is that drawing can be calming and therapeutic when other parts of life resemble an out-of-control roller coaster ride.  Katsuyuki and Mameyuri, thank you for your serenity and grace.  Drawing you both has been pure joy.

Update: May 2016.  I have made two more drawings from this photo session.  These are from photos which Lucy took.  Even though they are blurry (especially the first one) I like them very much and they have made lovely small drawings.

"Ephemeron" (Mameyuri) 170 x 260 mm May 2016

“Ephemeron” (Mameyuri)
170 x 260 mm
May 2016

"Ephemera" Mameyuri and Katsuyuki 170 x 260 mm May 2016

Mameyuri and Katsuyuki
170 x 260 mm
May 2016

Related page:  Subject 2: Geisha   Related post:  Ephemeron and Ephemera

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Blue Angel

Blue Angel Portrait of Satohana of Kamishichiken, Kyoto. 345 x 485 mm. May, 2014.

Blue Angel
Portrait in coloured pencils and crayons of Satohana of Kamishichiken, Kyoto. 345 x 485 mm. May, 2014.

I can’t go for too many months without drawing a maiko or geiko (geisha).  The last one was finished in September 2013 – so – time for another.  I try to be restrained but I continue to sprinkle a few throughout each year because I can’t help it!  I drew a portrait of Satohana last year (“Waiting“) and it was intended for my up-coming exhibition in September 2014.  However late last year it sold so I embarked on another portrait of her a couple of weeks ago; not from the same photo of course, as I had taken several of her.  This time I used crayon within the composition so it has a different texture to the first portrait which had been entirely coloured pencils.  In fact this is the first time I have used crayon within a maiko or geiko drawing.

I called the drawing “Blue Angel” as the name has an other-worldly suggestion to it.  Seeing a maiko or geiko, a friend who visited Kyoto wrote to me, is like coming across a unicorn.  She is such a rare and glorious sight, enveloped in mystery, materializing as if from another dimension.  I also use ‘blue’ in the context of mood.  Satohana looks introspective as she waits outside the theatre after the Kamishichiken spring dance she had just performed in.   The combination of atmosphere, profile, downcast eyes, hair accessory (kanzashi), white face and black hair reminds me of the piece of New York street art I drew in January 2014 called “Low”.   Both pensive subjects are ‘contained’; framed within their stylized clothes and blue-grey environments.

Low A drawing of New York street art from January, 2014.

A drawing of New York street art from January, 2014.

Did I think of geisha when this street art ‘spoke’ to me last August in New York?  Not at all.   It was only when coming across Satohana in my photo file recently that I made a connection.

To jog your memory if you were reading my posts last year, or to introduce you if you weren’t, here is another drawing of Satohana.  She was waiting for a family group in the top drawing.  She was very relieved and joyous when they finally emerged from the theatre.  In “Rare View” she is walking away with (perhaps) her little sister.  Because I had never seen a maiko holding hands with a child before, I called the drawing “Rare View”.  I was playing with similar-sounding words because this is also a ‘rear view’.

Rare View The title of this drawing is a play on words as this IS a rare view, but it is also a rear view.

Rare View
Coloured pencil drawing, 2013.

The two drawings are identical in size.  They would make a lovely pair.  Perth people will see them at Elements Art Gallery in September.

Return to Contents of Posts page           Related posts:  Rare View        Low       Waiting

Watercolour Supplication

In 1997 our family moved from cosmopolitan Sydney to the mining town of Kalgoorlie (population 30,000) in inland Western Australia.  Nine and a half months later we moved on from Kalgoorlie to Perth – where we still live.  I was happy to find myself in the city of Perth, however two major moves within 12 months resulted in a wicked dose of transplant shock.  All my art ideas dried up.    I was floating in Art Purgatory.    While flailing around searching for a lifeline, I took up watercolours and simply went outside to paint – en plein air.  No cameras, no grids, no tracing; just the tools of own eyes and hands.

Here are a few watercolours from that period.  I see them as transitional works spanning the time when I was suffering from visual artist’s version of “writer’s block”.  It was necessary to return to direct observation of surroundings; rather like going back to basics.

View from Pier Street watercolour 1998

View from Pier Street

“View from Pier Street” was painted while I was perched on a concrete step at the bottom of an East Fremantle street. Beyond where I sat was Riverside Drive, Swan river and the banks of North Fremantle on the far shore.  I didn’t use watercolours in a classical way as I’ve never learned to use watercolour properly.  Instead I was sort of drawing with paint.

Fremantle-on-Canning watercolour 1999

watercolour 1999

“Fremantle-on-Canning” was painted from my parked car while Lucy was at kindergarten.  The good thing about using watercolours this way was that I could complete a painting in one session of 60 to 90 minutes.  I didn’t have the luxury of time to muck around.

Albany Morning watercolour 1999

Albany Morning

“Albany Morning” was painted while we were on holiday in a town about five hours drive south of Perth.  Albany is a quaint port town and has a slightly New Zealand feel about it.  I got up early to paint while the rest of the family slept.  It was a still, cold, frosty autumn morning.

Beyond Pier Street watercolour and pencil 1999

Beyond Pier Street
watercolour and pencil

“Beyond Pier Street” was a view from an upstairs window of our house looking over the port of Fremantle.  This was a line-and-watercolour sketch using coloured pencils in conjunction with watercolours.

Nelson watercolour 1999

watercolour 1999

I painted the Nelson watercolour while holidaying in New Zealand.  A policeman insisted I move my car while I was painting the first version of this watercolour.  He said I was parked facing the wrong direction and, “You wouldn’t park that way in your own country [Australia] so why think you can do it over here?!”  I couldn’t speak my mind back because I didn’t want to be given a parking fine.  After he ‘cautioned’ me, I repositioned the car and started again.  Some resident must have thought I was ‘casing the joint’ and called the police.   Danger: Artist at Work.

Paekakariki Sidelings watercolour 1999

Paekakariki Sidings
watercolour 1999

On that same holiday I painted beside disused railway tracks at a place called Paekakariki, north of Wellington.  It was a bit creepy working among the derelict carriages.  Train ghosts!

I found my watercolours to be rather hit and miss affairs; more to the point, they were more often miss than hit.  But at least they got me looking at the world again so they were an essential part of the art journey.  Through their use I worked my way out of Art Purgatory.   Later in 1999 I returned to my oils with a fresh sense of purpose.  In 2001 I found my way back to coloured pencils.   I eventually gave away all my oil paints but I still have my watercolour set – just in case I stumble back into the wilderness again.

Paekakariki Sidelings oil painting 1999

Paekakariki Sidings
oil painting 1999

When all else fails – the lifeline out of the void is practising what you learned in Art 101: Observe and draw.

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