Category Archives: Japan

Kyoto Belle Époque

“Kyoto Belle Époque”
coloured pencils and oil pastels. 22 x 27 cm. September 2017

To each of you who came to my art exhibition “Entranced” this month, thank you so much!  Many of you saw me working on this drawing and some of us discussed techniques together.

The drawing as a work-in-progress at the gallery in September 2017.

Once the exhibition closed I finished the drawing at home.   I call it “Kyoto Belle Époque” as it calls to my mind the elegance of the ‘beautiful era’ of Paris in the late 19th century.  So, to me, this is a touch of Paris in Kyoto.

People who came to the exhibition saw that looking at my blurry drawings close up and far away were two different experiences for the eyes.  So for this post I have taken a photo of the drawing from a small distance.  The blurry drawings make more sense from a wall across a room (as they are designed to be viewed)  than they do as a close-up computer screen image.

“Kyoto Belle Époque” on the easel.

Finally, who were these two maiko?  They were Taka and Hisamomo of Pontocho.

The two maiko in the drawing



“Daydream”  coloured pencils and oil pastels, 215 x 290 mm.  August 2017.

Daydream – a pleasant fantasy or reverie.

“Daydream” is my second drawing from a photograph I took in Pontocho, Kyoto in the spring of 2013.  The first drawing is “Promenade”, February 2016.

190 x 250 mm, February 2016

I was persuaded to let Matthew (husband) keep “Promenade” as it is a favourite of his.  However I did so want to exhibit it in my exhibition Entranced next month.  A few days ago I had the bright idea to do another version of it, this time using Sennelier oil pastels as well as coloured pencils and drawing it larger than the first one.

I was curious to see how I would treat the subject 18 months after my first interpretation and after months in the interim doing impressionistic Paris drawings.

Here they are side by side; the new one on the right.  I didn’t look at the first drawing   while I drew the second so as not to be influenced by it.  The dark areas are more intense (saturated) in “Daydream” than “Promenade” and I think the new drawing has more luminosity and power than the older one.

In the new drawing, the figures have a floating quality and the road sweeps up rather than along, but the scene has a gentle dreaminess so I’m leaving it this way.

So Matt gets to keep “Promenade” while I get to exhibit “Daydream”.  This is called ‘having one’s cake and eating it too’!

“Daydream” is the 23rd and final drawing for Entranced opening on 7 September (until 20) at Kidogo Arthouse, Bathers Beach, Fremantle.



Coloured pencil drawing of Katsutomo. 370 x 460 mm. June 2017

“Entrance 1. the act or an instance of going or coming in; a door, passage etc. by which one enters; right of admission; the coming of an actor on stage.”                                        “Entrance 2. enchant, delight; put into a trance; overwhelm with strong feeling.”           (The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary)

In September 2015 I took many photos of Katsutomo during her erikae (when she become a Geiko).  This month, June 2017, I have made my third drawing from this auspicious occasion.

Two previous drawings of Katsutomo …

A Reflective Moment
330 x 490 mm, 2015

Being There
365 x 510 mm, 2015

and when she was still a Maiko…

Here she is in my drawing “The Art of Elegance”, 2014

I have recently been invited to exhibit my drawings at Kidogo Arthouse – 7th to 20th September 2017 – hence a return to memories – and new drawings – of Kyoto.  My co-exhibitor will be Ceramicist, Stewart Scambler.  This is a Gallery East exhibition.


Fascination:  Maiko, Geiko, Kyoto

invitation 3 jpeg

From September 17th to October 2nd 2016, Robyn Varpins and I open the doors to our art exhibition Fascination: Maiko, Geiko, Kyoto celebrating maiko and geiko (geisha) of Kyoto.

"Odori" by Robyn Varpins

“Odori” by Robyn Varpins

Maiko and geiko are practitioners of the traditional arts of Japan.  These are cultivated, refined and graceful women who not only perform art, but themselves become works of art.

“This has felt like creating icons, as maiko and geiko have an ‘other-worldliness’ that make them symbolic and able to be imbued with meaning” ( Robyn Varpins)

"Super Deluxe" Drawing by Julie Podstolski

“Super Deluxe”
Drawing by Julie Podstolski

In case you wonder, “But what do maiko and geiko actually DO?”, we are fortunate to have copies of “Geiko and Maiko of Kyoto” by Robert van Koesveld for sale.  This sumptuous photographic book, published this year, will answer many of your questions.

"Geiko & Maiko of Kyoto" by Robert van Koesveld.

It is our wish that you will find contemplation, inspiration and even a touch of enchantment when you visit our exhibition of drawing (by Julie Podstolski) and sculpture (by Robyn Varpins).  Our muses are mesmerizing.  Welcome to our fascination.

Artist talks at 1 pm Sunday 18th and Sunday 25th September.  We welcome questions and discussion on our exhibition subject, our art techniques, art materials and Japan.

I have a list of all my drawings in the exhibition on my blog page Fascination: Maiko, Geiko, Kyoto – an Art Exhibition

The exhibition will be open 7 days per week: 10 am – 4 pm.  Early Work.  Shop 9, 330 South Terrace, South Fremantle WA 6162

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Super Deluxe

Super Deluxe A new drawing for August 2016 in coloured pencils

Super Deluxe
A new drawing for August 2016 in coloured pencils

Word association:  the words on the taxi are a perfect description for maiko and geiko.  These practitioners of the refined arts of Japan are cultivated and rarified beings.   They are super deluxe.  The geiko in this drawing is Chisako; this has just been confirmed by my good Kyoto friend, Mima-san.

This composition was hidden inside a very ordinary photo which I took last September. While examining the photo, it was seeing the words on the taxi which piqued my interest.

Here is the source photo for the drawing "Super Deluxe".

Here is the source photo for the drawing “Super Deluxe”.

It took me a few months to see the potential for a piece of art hiding inside my hastily taken photograph.  That is the exciting thing about candid photography on Kyoto streets – one never knows what treasures lie within the copious material brought home.  What a bonus to have captured the reflection of the lantern in the taxi’s shiny paint.  I loved drawing this.




Doll of Paradise

Doll of Paradise A drawing in coloured pencils of a doll I saw on display in a Higashiyama shop window. July 2016

Doll of Paradise
A drawing in coloured pencils of a doll I saw on display in a Higashiyama shop window.
July 2016

As I sat on the plane on the way to Japan last month, I instructed myself, “Don’t forget to take photos into plate glass windows”.

Two days later I found myself in a narrow lane in Higashiyama which was lined on both sides with souvenir shops.  I stared at a row of dolls who danced without moving in a display window.  As I looked, my visual awareness deepened.  I noticed fans reflected in the glass from the shop opposite.  What perfect accompaniments for a doll in a dance pose. I manoeuvred myself into position to capture the composition with my camera.

Back home in my studio I wanted to draw the doll in the window but I was unsure.  Did I have enough patience to handle the amount of detail on the kimono?  Was drawing an impassive doll a worthwhile project anyway?  I asked Matthew.  He reassured me on both counts.  He said, “You’ll enjoy it”.  He was right.  The obsessive-compulsive part of me was in its element.  I drew for extra-long hours by day and into each night as I could hardly pull myself away from the colourful and intricate work.  I would say it was a labour of love, except that it didn’t feel like any labour was involved; only joy.

I call the drawing “Doll of Paradise” as she is a figurine who is exotic, rich, colourful, luxuriant and unusual.  She is an imitation of a maiko.  And yet, often maiko are described as looking so much like dolls.  So my question to myself is – who is imitating whom?


Fun in Higashiyama

Fun in Higashiyama

Fun in Higashiyama

When I go to Kyoto I spend a lot of time on the streets of Gion, Pontocho, Miyagawacho and Gion Higashi trying to get photos of maiko and geiko.   Trooping around the kagai (geimaiko districts) is sheer hard work!  In contrast, a gentle stroll around the eastern hills of Kyoto; Higashiyama, is pure fun.  This area is where I can enjoy all I see, smell, hear, taste (and spend money on) without any of the self-induced stress suffered in the four hanamachi below.  There is a magic atmosphere in Higashiyama.  Everybody seems to be happy – just like me.  Let me show you a little of Higashiyama, experienced from my June 2016 trip.  (Click on the photos below to enlarge.)

Blue Stocking dress shop. I am always fascinated by the clothes in the window.

Blue Stocking dress shop. I am fascinated by the sweetly conservative outfits in the window.

This 4 cm cat was crying to be saved. It was sitting on a rock by the side of the road. I scooped it up and brought it back to Australia where it now sits by my art desk.

Tiny Cat (4 cm high) is crying to be saved. It is sitting on a stone by the side of the road. I photograph it (not caring that passers-by must think I’m nuts) then scoop it up and bring it back to Australia.  (See final photo)

Many brides and grooms come up to Higashiyama to be photographed as there are so many areas of gorgeousness here.

Brides and grooms come up the hill to be photographed as there are so many areas of gorgeousness here…to which they add their own colourful splendour.

A street scene with hydrangeas.

A street scene with hydrangeas. (Warm and wet June is hydrangea month.)

Joyful bride and groom.

Joyful bride and groom.

Higashiyama is also where you will see many 'henshin' (young girls and older women dressing up as maiko and geiko).

A couple of henshin (girls dressing up as maiko) pose for one another at a particularly photogenic spot.

Stunning architecture framed by trees.

Traditional wooden architecture framed by trees; Yasaka Pagoda behind.

I gaze and gaze into shop windows - and sometimes like to photograph into them too - enjoying the juxtaposition between what is inside with the reflections from outside.

I gaze into the window of a shop which sells fine incense.  I am fascinated by the juxtaposition of what is displayed behind the glass pane, with outside reflections upon its surface.

Can you see the reflection of the couple walking past this shop window?

Can you see the reflection of the bridal couple walking past this shop window?  (Enlarge the photo by clicking on it, then you will.)

Stunning dolls on display in a very expensive souvenir shop window.

Stunning dolls on display in a rather exclusive gift shop window.

From up at Kiyamizu Temple there are expansive views to be had of the basin which Kyoto sits in, surrounded by mountains.

From up at Kiyomizu Temple there are expansive views of the basin which Kyoto sits in, surrounded by high blue hills.

Looking down one of the steep streets at a small group of yukuta-clad girls.

Looking down a steep set of steps.  (You can stroll but you still have to climb!)

Yasaka Pagoda peeps over the wooden buildings which house tempting shops and cafés.

Yasaka Pagoda peeps over the wooden buildings which house tempting gift shops and cafés.  Many visitors to Kyoto wear yukata which brings even more colour and charm to a scene.

In the distance, a bride and groom pose under the Yasaka Pagoda.

In the distance, a bride and groom pose under the Yasaka Pagoda.

I zoom down (literally) to get a closer photo of the bride and groom.

Ai ai gasa – two under the same umbrella.

Back down on the flat in the district of Gion Higashi. This bland urban environment is a stark contrast lush Higashiyama, just a few minutes walk away.

Back down on the flat in the hanamachi of Gion Higashi. This urban desert is a stark contrast to lush Higashiyama – just a few minutes walk eastwards and upwards.

From Higashiyama to Julie's studio, Tiny Cat among friends.

P.S.  From Higashiyama to Julie’s studio, Tiny Cat among friends.

Higashiyama is a tourist area but it is also a spiritual place, housing many temples, shrines and ancient gardens.  Nobody ever tries to grab your attention or herd you into their shops.  You can have as much or as little people interaction as you please.  Even when it is thronging with people, there is a sense of peace.  To me, it is a kind of paradise.

Currently I am working on a drawing sourced from my time spent in Higashiyama. (It has something to do with one of these photos.)  When it is finished, it will be unveiled on my next post.

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