Category Archives: Japan

Undercover White

Wafting” 36 x 28.5 cm. September 2019

During the previous fortnight while I worked on a commission of a Japanese lantern, I reminded myself of the principle of undercover white.  What do I mean by this?  The same colour (let’s say red) when mixed with white, results in a different pink/light-red depending on whether white is put down underneath the red, or over it.  The following diagram illustrates this…

The first swatch in the diagram is Caran d’Ache Permanent Red 061.  In the middle swatch I have put down a layer of Holbein Soft White 501 and THEN layered Permanent Red 061 over the top.  Notice how soft and glowing the result is – perfect for creating luminosity – as in lanterns.  The final swatch is the result of Permanent Red 061 underneath with Soft White on top.  This is the SAME red with white, but mixed in reverse order.  TOTALLY DIFFERENT!

In the above drawing “Wafting”  the entire area of the lantern has Soft White underneath.  White acts like a secret agent; Undercover White.  This method creates glow.

Four years ago I wrote a post about this use of white (which I taught myself) however after doing the current drawing, it seems like a good idea to repeat the lesson.  It is useful knowledge to have up your sleeve.

The delicate-red parasol in “Being There” also employed this technique.   –  the link to the first post on this subject in 2015.

“Good thinking, 99”.

In case it is still confusing here is another colour chart: –

The first column shows three primary colours; red, yellow and blue. In the second column I have put down a layer of white pencil directly onto the paper and then put colour on top. Compare this to the third column where red, yellow and blue went onto the paper FIRST with a layer of white over the top. Can you see in each case that the colour produced in column 2 is more luminous and bright than the colour in column 3?

Conclusion: The result of putting white underneath a colour is NOT the same as the result of putting white over the top of a colour.

Undercover white is not only a useful method for rendering neon, lanterns, and lamps. It can be used in a universe of subject matter – anything that requires a bit of zing.

Two small drawings in stages to illustrate my theory of undercover white.

“Art” a drawing shown in six stages. 6 x 9 inches.

I made two drawings, photographing them in stages, to show my undercover white process. The first work is on Arches Aquarelle hot-pressed (smooth) paper using Caran d’Ache Neocolor wax pastels and Luminance 6901 coloured pencils. The exercise was for the Colored Pencil Society of America publication “To the Point” magazine, November 2020. Click on the images to enlarge them for better viewing.

I took the source photo for the drawing “Art” in Paris. I had stood transfixed looking at a blue neon sign in an art gallery window which read, “The Liberation of Art”. At the time I had wondered to myself, “But what IS the liberation of art?”

Figure 1

Figure 1: What you see here is mostly paper without pigment on. The letters ‘art’ and any other patches of colour you can see already have white pencil underneath them. These are the areas that will be glowing in the finished piece. (At this stage all areas of colour you can see are made with Luminance pencil, not Neocolor.)

Figure 2

Figure 2: I lightly under-painted with Neocolor all the areas except for the lettering and the other small areas of colour already seen on Figure 1. Then I put the Neocolor away and only used pencils from this point onwards. After the underpainting I set the darkest tone with heavy-pressured Luminance.

Figure 3

Figure 3: With the darkest area in place, I began building up and intensifying other colours, not touching the letters ‘art’ for the time being.

Figure 4

Figure 4: There was a dance between blue and purple going on in this drawing. But what was blue and what was purple? Where did one begin and the other end? Blue and purple are so close to one another that whenever I adjusted one colour, I needed to adjust its neighbour. There was constant readjusting happening just as if I was putting ingredients into a recipe; a bit more of this, less of that, more, less, more – ad infinitum – trying to achieve exactly the flavour required.

Figure 5

Figure 5: At this point I built up the blues on the three letters. This was a matter of careful gradation; pale to deep blue on top of undercover white, trying to be even-handed at all times. I called the painting finished at this stage. But it wasn’t. It looked very much like the source photo I was working from, but it wasn’t glowing like it was supposed to. I wanted the painting to be a statement – “ART!” But it was more of a sigh – “ho hum…art”. So I put the source photo away in a drawer and rolled up my sleeves. It was time to leave the source behind – and see what I could do by myself.

Figure 6 – the finished piece

Figure 6 – the finished piece: I figured out the problem by turning the composition upside down. Sometimes I turn a work on its head or sideways in order to see it with a fresh eye or (another method) look at it reversed in a mirror. When I saw it upside down I realised that one half was working while the other half wasn’t. Why? The top half had the intensity I wanted – that strong contrast between pale blue neon letters and bottomless blue/blackness behind. The panel of colour on the lower half was wishy-washy, neither here nor there. It needed to be as intense as the saturated black of the upper half.

I made minimal adjustments to the word ‘art’ when I was fine-tuning the drawing, mostly adding more blue to the outer edges of the letters. The bulk of the changes were made outside of those letters. Once I altered the lower panel by deepening and enriching its colours, the neon lettering came into its own.

Problem solving can be like that, where the thing you thought was wrong actually isn’t wrong – but some other part is. Fix that other area and the initial thing which was worrying you suddenly and mysteriously works. That reminds me, another problem-solving technique is to cover a section of your work. Is the part you can still see problematic or is it not? Then move the cover around so that you are isolating different sections for critiquing.

“Super Dry”

The second drawing was composed from a detail of a photo I took in downtown Osaka. The composition shows part of a neon advertisement for Asahi Beer with some traffic signage on the left.

Figure 1

Figure 1: The first image of “Super Dry” shows the underpainting completed. I did the underpainting with Neocolor wax pastels except for the letters which were layered in white coloured pencil only. There is white Neocolor underneath the yellow area. I put yellow over the white Neocolor before taking the photo so that the word ‘dry’ (while still only in white pencil) could be distinguished from its surrounds.

Figure 2

Figure 2: The only difference between Figure 1 and Figure 2 is that in this one a layer of red pencil was gently worked over the white area of the letters. After the underpainting was completed in Figure 1 I finished with the Neocolor and from here on all else was (and will be) worked in Luminance.

Figure 3

Figure 3: More layering has taken place, especially in the dark area above the word ‘super’. Because I wanted the neon red to ‘pop’ I worked red’s complement – green – into the coloured panels surrounding the letters. From the top to the bottom of the artwork everything around those red letters contains green except the left-hand street signs.

Figure 4

Figure 4: At this middle stage of the work I was continuing the colour intensification process by methodically adding more layers of colour. I mixed the complementary colours red and green to produce the dark tertiary colour which surrounds the word ‘super’. Mixing any two complementary colours together (red/green; orange/blue; yellow/purple) make richer tertiary colours than, say, using one tertiary (for example grey) coloured pencil.

Figure 5

Figure 5: I worked on the traffic signs on the composition’s left side. Not influenced by electricity, these plain street signs didn’t need to glow. Their muted tones don’t compete with the bright red and yellow of the neon but drive your eye towards it. In fact there is an arrow directing your eye away from the left edge.

Figure 6: “Super Dry”

Figure 6: “Super Dry” is complete. Undercover white pencil was used on the lettering. Undercover white Neocolor was used on the bright yellow area. Although it is not obvious, there was liberal use of green all through the work to bring out the luminous red letter as much as possible.

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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Kimihiro and Kimitoyo

A touch of Klimt; surely the obi on the right was influenced by the Viennese artist.

A touch of  Gustav Klimt; surely the obi on the right was influenced by his art.

Three weeks ago today I happened across the Erikae of Kimihiro of Miyagawa-cho.  Here are eight of my favourite photos from this most fortunate of spontaneous photo-shoots.

I took the top photo during the Erikae walk.  I was one of a hoard of photographers.  But then it was all over.  The photographers dispersed.  Half a dozen of us remained, chatting, deciding what to do next – when Kimihiro surprised us by coming back out of her okiya.

Kimihiro steps out of her okiya.

Kimihiro re-emerges.

Kimihiro’s sister, Kimitoyo, appeared; I don’t even remember where she came from. Perhaps she also came out of the okiya.  It is all a blur in my mind.  They delighted us by posing with a baby.  Possibly the baby was related to them or she could have been the neighbour’s baby.  (Yes, the baby’s mother was there too, standing to one side.)

Kimihiro with her sister, Kimitoyo and a baby.

Kimihiro, Kimitoyo and the baby.

Kimitoyo and the baby.

Kimitoyo and the baby.

It was such a happy time of posing.  How often have I seen a maiko holding a baby?  Never – until that moment.

Kimihiro outside her okiya.

Kimihiro outside her okiya.

Three is a GOOD crowd - Kimihiro and Kimitoyo are joined by Fukutomo.

Three is a GOOD crowd – Kimihiro and Kimitoyo are joined by Fukutomo.

Fukutama can't help but smile at the celebrations.

Fukutama can’t help but smile at the celebrations as she passes by.

I like this photo because of the delicate hand movement of Kimitoyo, reminding us that these young women are ARTISTS.

I like this photo because of the delicate hand position of Kimitoyo, reminding us that these young women are custodians of traditional Japanese PERFORMING ARTS.

I was over-the-moon to be able to photograph the small ‘happening’ after the erikae walk. Occasionally I will know in advance that an erikae or misedashi will be on while I am in Kyoto but I didn’t know about this one.  What a gift!

Related post:  Sisters (my first post about Kimihiro and Kimitoyo)

Hurry Up!

"Hurry Up!" is drawn with coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle smooth. 250 x 305 mm. June 2016

“Hurry Up!” is drawn with coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle smooth.
250 x 305 mm.
June 2016

I may be nearly 57 but my eternal inner child is alive, well and as insistent as she was when I was actually her age.  A fortnight ago we travelled to Kyoto together.

“Hurry up!” she implored on each of the three nights we stayed out to photograph maiko and geiko.  “I’m bored already.  We’ve been out all day.  I’m tired.  I want to go back to my room.  I want to eat.”  And – “Buy me a macha ice cream”.  [I did.  It was delicious.]  “My feet hurt.  My knees, back and shoulders ache.  I need a bathroom.  I need a bed.”

I had to be firm.  “Just another half hour”, I replied.  “Wait until I get a couple more photos.  I tell you what, after the next maiko or geiko shows up, then we’ll go.  Just until 9, 9.30, just until 10.”

So the internal dialogue continued.  Adult Julie simply HAD to hold out; resist the whine from within.  This was a small window of opportunity (three days and nights) to acquire new source photos to draw from.  I couldn’t waste precious time by giving in and going back to the hotel.  I MUST HAVE PHOTOS!  (Or to quote a famous lady, “I must have my share…”)

We agreed on one thing; when maiko and geiko appeared, enabling us to get photos, both adult and inner child were exultant.  “YES!”

Maiko and geiko finally came out of various ozashiki and dashed in the rain to their next appointments.  The drawing’s title refers to their speed as they hurtled (with grace) past one another beneath red umbrellas.

Hurry Up!” is a drawing about movement; an impression of speed.  Plus the title acknowledges Inner Child.  It reminds me of our nightly reckoning as we endured mind-numbing boredom and fatigue on the dark wet streets of Gion – waiting interminably for a few quick bursts of elegant action.