A site to share my drawings, paintings, photographs and thoughts.
Category Archives: maiko
A Walk in Miyagawa
With the latest art exhibition “Home & Heart – local love stories” behind me, I decide to indulge myself with a Kyoto drawing – just for the sheer love of it.
Miyagawa is one of Kyoto’s five geisha districts. I was last there in November 2019 and this drawing is from a photo I took during that trip.
I like spending time in Miyagawa as it is quiet. Just ten minutes’ walk north, the better-known geisha district of Gion is heaving with tourists eagerly (and sometimes brutally) trying to intercept maiko and geiko (geisha) for photos.
Below are three older drawings from Miyagawa; each portrays a rear view. I love drawing the kimono ensemble from behind, while pictorially, a retreating figure guides the viewer into the scene.
Timeless Miyagawa – as I draw the scene, so I am also drawn in.
A Late Night Conversation
For several days I have been “in training”. “Each night I stayed up as late as I could and each morning attempted to sleep in. My goal was to adjust my body-clock so that I wouldn’t only be awake until midnight on Wednesday 6th April but also lucid, lively and with a reasonable vocabulary at my disposal.
I had been invited by Ann Kullberg to be her guest on a webcast LIVE from America. West Australian time is 15 hours ahead of U.S. Pacific time. Ouch – hence my “in training” sessions!
Everything worked out perfectly. I had a great time in conversation with Ann and midnight came around as rapidly as it surely had for Cinderalla on another night long ago.
While people tuned in from various parts of America to see the webcast live, in my region you were all in bed fast asleep. Now that you are up and about – here it is.
While some of my artworks are seen on the webcast you can see hundreds of them on my website – from the 1970s to now. https://juliepodstolski.com
Last Night I Dreamed of Kyoto
I have been self-disciplined in sticking to local subject matter in 2021. I tell myself “YOU ARE HERE”. I am at my drawing easel in North Coogee, Western Australia. But at night when I sleep there are neither domestic nor international borders. In my dream state I am a free agent. Quite regularly my dreams return me to Japan and if they are of the anxious variety, more often than not, my camera is lost!
In this drawing the maiko is not the bright centre of attention. She is fast disappearing as she smoothly moves away through lanterns, neon and darkness. Beyond reach and dream-like, perhaps a dim figment of nocturnal imagination.
Below is the drawing at various stages. I experimented by blending the undercoat of Neocolor II pastel with a blender pencil BEFORE putting on coloured pencil. Doing this altered the paper – making it a smoother surface to work on. (I often use blender over the top of coloured pencils but this was the first time I put it underneath.) I liked the feel of working pencils over the blended Neocolors but I’m not sure the end result is different from what it might have been had I done things in their usual order.
Perfect Partners: Neocolor and Luminance
Recently I have been sharing a method in Facebook coloured pencil groups which has piqued the interest of some of my peers; therefore, I have decided to write a post about it.
My method is to use Neocolor 2; a water soluble wax pastel by Caran d’Ache (I use it without water) as undercoat for coloured pencil drawings.
Putting Neocolor onto the paper before coloured pencils are applied speeds up the process of the drawing – which is especially good if I am working on a large picture. (The drawing shown here is 33.5 x 48.5 cm.) Anyone who uses coloured pencils alone to render big areas like sky or still water knows how tedious it is. Neocolor makes the process faster and more pleasurable.
The texture of Neocolor 2 makes a welcoming cushion-like base for coloured pencil to relax into. The pencil glides over Neocolor so much more readily than it glides over virgin paper.
I find that complicated areas (such as Venetian palace facades) cannot help but be simplified when the initial layer is put on with Neocolor. You can’t be too fussy with this medium because it is never super-sharp. (I use a knife to sharpen the pastel but even at its sharpest, it is kind of blunt.) Therefore it attunes my brain to the main shapes as opposed to fiddly tiny details.
I use very light pressure when putting Neocolor on. It is barely there – and yet it makes SUCH a difference to the surface texture.
Because I don’t like holding a crayon-length instrument, I use a Fixpencil 0012 (also by Caran d’Ache) to hold it with. I find this longer length much more comfortable for my hand and it gives me added control.
If you’ve read other posts of mine, you’ll know that Luminance is my number one pencil. However in the photo below you’ll see I’m blending using a Derwent Blender. This blender is hard and dry. There’s enough wax already in the Neocolor/Luminance mix. It doesn’t need added wax in the form of a wax-based blender, so the raspy dry Derwent blender makes the perfect tool. Once I’ve blended, that isn’t the end of it. I can carry on adding more colour over the top; no problem.
The final image shows where I’m up to currently with the drawing. In my opinion, the partnership of Neocolor with coloured pencil gives a soft painterly aesthetic which, to me, is delicious.
Postscript: The drawing is finished on 24th January, 2020. It is called “Most Serene”.
Here is a step-by-step exercise to show my impressionistic technique using Neocolor and Luminance. I originally created the piece “Daydream” for Ann Kullberg’s COLOR Magazine. It is featured in the November 2020 issue. You can click on the images to enlarge them.
Working from a cropped photo I took of a maiko (apprentice geisha) I trace minimal lines onto a piece of Arches Aquarelle smooth paper, 9 x 7 inches. The lines are arbitrary for when everything is blurry where exactly does one draw the line? With no sharp tonal boundaries and everything merging the graphite guide lines may only be approximate.
Once I have my graphite lines on the paper I begin the undercoat process. This can be done purely with coloured pencils but I like to begin with Caran d’Ache Neocolor wax pastels. Neocolor’s waxy texture makes a nice surface for coloured pencils to go over. Because a Neocolor stick is a fairly blunt instrument it encourages me to work in a loose manner. As I put Neocolor on I simultaneously erase the graphite lines. I work with such light pressure that if I put a colour in the wrong place I can lift most of it off with an eraser.
Once the page is filled with Neocolor I bring in the coloured pencils. At this early stage I am working them over the Neocolor gradually intensifying the values. I am using light to light-medium pressure only. I still see this as a continuation of undercoat even though I’m now using pencils. My pencil work is reasonably free and non-fussy as I begin to build tone over the page. I lay white pencil over the pale pink kimono (but nowhere else in the drawing) because I want the maiko eventually to stand out from the rest of the drawing. The application of white will give her kimono a glow. I use the pencils in a vigorous way letting all manner of expressive marks show.
From now on it is a matter of layer-building. I mostly work with small vertical strokes however I use other directional strokes too. For instance on the path you can see that my strokes are diagonal – in tune with the perspective. I also use an all-over-the-place scribble which helps the diffused look. My scribble marks are gossamer-light however; no heavy-handed scribbling. (What is scribble if not a type of mark-making?) Stroke direction can also add to a feeling of movement. I want the maiko to look like she is rushing away from me so my directional strokes help to create that effect.
To create blurriness there is a lot of colour overlapping taking place. For example I push the pink of the kimono into the grey path and push the grey of the path into the pink kimono. Throughout the drawing I am pushing and pulling colours which constantly merges the boundaries between areas and objects.
Because this kind of drawing comes together from a distance I only sit down to work on it in the early stages. I work in an expressive way with my whole self. That is, I work from one end of the room to the other. The drawing stands on an easel. I walk up to it and away from it, putting a mark here, going away to check how it looks, going back to adjust, stepping back again to see from afar. It is action work. And as I go I continually adjust and fine-tune until at some point I think I am done.
“Daydream” is complete. What were my aims? I was seeking a mood, an impression, an atmosphere, in this case perhaps a sense of walking speed as well. The source photo was my jumping off point – or you could say it was my way back to the memory of that Kyoto afternoon.
An Italian Dream – technical note
In “An Italian Dream” I wanted the colours in the foreground to be the most deeply saturated parts of the picture, being closest to the viewer. So I put Neocolor II wax pastels down as undercoat for this water/boat area. The sky, hills and buildings have no Neocolor underneath. They are rendered with coloured pencils only. Having wax pastels for the pencils to work into and over makes for a finish of delicious intensity.
How do I manage to do fairly detailed work at the undercoat stage with Neocolor? The answer is that I sharpen my Neocolors using the Faber Castell dual pencil sharpener. The larger of the openings of the dual sharpener fits Neocolor perfectly.
Currently (January 2021) I am working on a drawing of sunrise on the Grand Canal.
When you see the Luminance colour go over the top of the Neocolor undercoat, you can appreciate by comparing the coloured pencil with the pastel areas how lightly I use the Neocolor. Neocolor maps in the shapes with the lightest pressure. The Luminance going over the top does 95% of the work. Despite the light pressure of the Neocolor, its presence makes a difference – enriching the work as a whole.
The drawing continues – Luminance over Neocolor gradually moving from left to right across the buildings. Also I adjust as I go, for instance, intensifying the glow in the sky.
In the next image I am working on the building on the right. These are not its final colours; rather, it is perhaps half-way completed.
Finally, the finished piece, “Morning has Broken”. Ready for my April 2021 exhibition “An Italian Dream”. (You can have a sneak preview of all the pieces which will be exhibited HERE.)
February 2022: I photographed another drawing in stages. Here are six stages of “Box Seat” .
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
Today, members of Perth Kimono Club visited our art exhibition “Fascination: Maiko, Geiko, Kyoto”.
Outside it was an incredibly stormy day. Only the bravest of the brave actually wore kimono as a strong bitterly cold wind blew non-stop while horizontal rain teemed. Inside the gallery we sat and discussed maiko, geiko and Kyoto – interrupted at regular intervals by the front door blowing open.
President of Perth Kimono Club, Izumi Woods, was given the task of randomly selecting the winner of 40 Caran d’Ache Luminance 6901 coloured pencils (held by Robyn Varpins) donated by Kadmium Art + Design Supplies in Sydney. 220 names were in the bag. Congratulations Di Swain!!!
After a group photo, people chatted and looked at the art. It was a lovely way to finish off the exhibition.
Matthew (my Better Half) was given the task of photographer.
Tomorrow people will come to take away the sculptures and drawings they bought. And I will go back to being a person who works quietly at home…at least for another two years.
Thank you to EVERYBODY who took the time to visit our art exhibition over two and a half weeks. Your interest, encouragement and support are hugely appreciated.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 fascinated by the sweetly conservative outfits in the window.
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)
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. (Warm and wet June is hydrangea month.)
Joyful bride and groom.
A couple of henshin (girls dressing up as maiko) pose for one another at a particularly photogenic spot.
Traditional wooden architecture framed by trees; Yasaka Pagoda behind.
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 bridal couple walking past this shop window? (Enlarge the photo by clicking on it, then you will.)
Stunning dolls on display in a rather exclusive gift shop window.
From up at Kiyomizu Temple there are expansive views of the basin which Kyoto sits in, surrounded by high blue hills.
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 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.
Ai ai gasa – two under the same umbrella.
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.
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.
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’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, 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.
Three is a GOOD crowd – Kimihiro and Kimitoyo are joined by Fukutomo.
Fukutama can’t help but smile at the celebrations as she passes by.
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)