Gareth Naylor

Atmospheric paintings of Japan

Watercolor painting of the path to Yusuhara shrine

Bicycle trip to a beautiful Japanese shrine called Yusuhara

Watercolor painting of the path to Yusuhara shrine
“Walk through dappled shadows to the shrine”

When I woke up today it was overcast and I decided today was going to be a laid back time in the studio dabbling around with the paintbrush. 

When my wife left the house, however, she remarked that it appeared to be getting brighter. I went outside and saw that one half of the sky was cloudy and the other half a light blue. 50: 50 I thought and went back to the studio.

But as I dabbled away with my paintbrush at the kitchen table (aka my studio) it gradually became brighter and brighter until with sunlight pouring through the window I was forced to admit that it was actually going to be a nice day after all.

I was, though, still in the sway of deciding it was going to be a laid back day in the studio and this had created a peculiar gravitational pull that held me back from jumping up and going out. Not until 10.30 did I manage to get myself out of the house and onto my bicycle.

I decided to cycle to Yusuhara shrine. It has been quite a while since I did a long bicycle ride. Although not too far away, it is on the top of a very high hill or should I say low mountain. I’m not sure. I wonder at what height a hill becomes a mountain.

Anyway, I have cycled to this shrine several times and done it without stopping but this time because of age or being in a very laid back state I walked on occasion which was probably good for my heart.

And I actually did my first painting before I ascended the hill. I came across a captivating scene of an entrance to another shrine. The tricky part was the background. There were houses in the background that over complicated the scene so I decided to exclude them and to make it some simple greenery instead.

Watercolor painting of the entrance to a small shrine
“Entrance to a shrine”

I almost didn’t show the painting above. I’m not very happy with it. But here it is.

Anyway, I continued on up the hill after painting this picture.

And I was pretty red in the face when I got to the top of the hill and the entrance of Yusuhara shrine which was about 50 steep steps. How welcoming! 

This was the scene for my second painting. I really liked the dramatic shadows across the ground. And I think my attempt to paint these shadows in my picture is the most successful part of the picture.

Watercolor painting of the steps leading to Yusuhara shrine
“The climb to the shrine”

Overall I’m not happy with this painting. But since I am writing about this painting, I thought that I might as well show it.

After this, I ascended to the shrine. In other words, I climbed an endless number of steps. It was tiring but I quite enjoyed it.

The final painting was a small enclosure next to the shrine. I really like the space and in particular the corridor on the right which is a pillared walkway. This walkway gives a spectacular view of the forest. 

Painting this beautiful scene though was a nightmare as I was surrounded by a cluster of tiny flies that desperately wanted to kamikaze into my eyes or explore my nostrils. 

It doesn’t help that I have cavernous nostrils. I never really gave much thought to my nostrils but they amaze my wife. She often wants to put things up them, such as a 500 yen Japanese coin which is a very large coin. 

But back to the story. I think that if I’d had a can of kerosene then I would have been tempted to douse and set light to myself. 

Instead I resorted to squirting the flies with extreme viciousness. Sadly, it wasn’t very effective.

And I lost all decorum. I was swearing, blowing like an angry bull through my nostrils and erratically waving my arms in front of me. 

I was without doubt quite a spectacle for the calm monk in the ticket booth. 

These are the joys of outdoor painting that nobody tells you about.

I did though, in spite of Mother Nature, finish the painting and was even quite happy with it.

Watercolor painting of an enclosure in Yusuhara shrine
“Beautiful enclosure in a Japanese shrine”

Then it was time to go home. The return journey was very pleasant because half of the ride I didn’t even have to pedal. I just needed to keep breaking.

That night while I was sleeping I suddenly woke up with an urge to go to the toilet and as I was getting up my left calf muscle contracted into a solid ball of iron. It was excruciatingly painful and I had to rub frantically to relax it. It ached the rest of the next day.

If this was the result of the bike ride then I am glad that I walked on occasion and didn’t over strain myself.

That’s all,



I originally wrote this in May of 2014. I am editing it in 2021. 

I think I still have the final painting but the others I have thrown away. It was interesting for me to read this article again as I had forgotten nearly all of it except for the muscle spasm. That was excruciating. 

I’m not happy with my paintings here but I included them as I think they are a necessary part of the story.

The painting at the very top was not painted on the day of this trip. Although it might have been painted in this year or sometime around this period. 

I’m showing it though because it is one of my better paintings of the path to Yusuhara shrine.