Watercolor painting of a Japanese rice field

Japanese Rice Field

Watercolor Painting of a Japanese Rice Field


I find the creative process to be very messy and that’s probably one reason why I have avoided trying to track my own creative process. This particular 7 day creation proves just how messy the process can be. I did about 15 versions of a rice field and in version 6 I suddenly stop painting the original scene and go and paint an entirely new scene although – thankfully – I still stick with the subject of a Japanese rice field. I have found that the creative process often leads you to make these sudden dramatic shifts and it seems to be a rather jarring experience rather than a smooth and logical progression towards “perfection”.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 1

Version 1

I began with a sketch. I didn’t paint any sky. I just focused on the land itself and the idea of a misty background and getting some texture in the grass in the foreground.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 1

Version 2

I played around with the background and thought about using a more blue-ish background.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 2

Version 3

Decided to add a simple golden sky background. And also put a tree on the right hand side of the painting near the foreground.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 3

Version 4

Attempted a finished painting. I think I made the sky too complicated and the idea of smoke from a fire in the distance didn’t work.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 4

Version 5

Decided to go for a much darker landscape in order to emphasize the beauty of the sky reflected in the water of the rice field. I loved the almost abstract pattern that the patches of mud created in the rice field. Although I like the sky it is perhaps still too busy.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 5

Version 6

A sudden change. I decided to abandon the previous scene. Although I really liked that beautiful – almost abstract – rice field I felt that it wasn’t working well enough and I decided to paint another rice field scene. I think this place is a rice field in Wasada, Oita prefecture. I’m not sure what led me to this scene and I can’t even find it among the images on my cell phone. The creative process is very messy and it is often really difficult to keep an accurate track of where new ideas or decisions come from. I love the sky in this new scene.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 6

Version 7

Had another go. Put figures walking along the bank with the hope that they would connect the foreground with the background in an interesting way. Also added some rice shoots – not sure if that worked so well.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 7

Version 8

In this watercolor sketched  I played around with more dramatic colors and I made some playful use of gouache for suggesting buildings and walls as well as for highlights in the water – all of which I thought worked well even though using gouache is considered cheating. It annoys me how imperfect sketches like this one have more life in them than my more finished paintings such as the painting above. I guess you just can’t can creativity.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 8

Version 9

Another quick watercolor sketch but with some changes this time to the farmer in the rice field.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 9

Version 10

Decided that a landscape format would be better. So I had to decide on whether I would give the most space to the field or to the sky – I decided upon the field. After all the rice field is the subject of the painting. And, of course, you are getting the sky anyway reflected in the rice field. I also realized that the sun would probably be catching the footpath by the rice field and so the top of it should be a light green color. I wanted to emphasize this light green color of the footpath as it would allow me to add some lovely shadows cast by the figures walking along it and it would act as a focal point in the painting.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 10

Version 11

I did a few sketches. In this one I was thinking about having a very low sun that was catching the top of a tree and turning it orange as well as some of the grass of the footpath next to the rice field. Although I liked this idea of having a touch of glowing orange in the foliage I didn’t go any further with it.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 11

Version 12

And here is another sketch. I really love the golden light in this piece and the looseness.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 12

Version 13

And here is one more sketch. I think I was working on the foliage with this one and trying to get a rougher – and thus more realistic – edge.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 13

Version 14

I decided that the rooftops in the distance needed to be cooler as the light was behind the trees and therefore they are probably in the shade and I even made the water of the rice field in the distance cooler. With the farmer in the rice field I attempted to make his hat a glowing orange color but I’m not sure that was such a good idea and didn’t bother to do that in the final picture – I think given more time I could have done something like that and have made it work.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 14

Version 15 

The final one! Perhaps I should have spent one more week on this as it might have produced something special. But now I have to work on my 2 brush method course so it seems like a good place to stop. I’m quite happy with this final painting. But it still doesn’t have the energy of my sketches.

Watercolor of a Japanese rice field no. 15

A brief talk about this painting series.

Time lapse video of painting no. 15.

Happy painting,


PS Comments are welcome. I can’t always reply but I do read them. I’d love to know which painting is your favorite and why. And if you have any ideas for a title please let me know as I might make that the actual title – choosing a title is so difficult.

Buy a Giclee print of this painting on Canson Aquarelle Rag (watercolor paper), 8 x 10″ (20.3 x 25.4 cms), $60 (includes shipping). Full refund if damaged during delivery. Please include the title of the painting – in the caption at the bottom of the painting. 

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I am an Englishman living and painting in Japan. I have now been here for over 17 years and have been painting for all that time. I love to travel around the Japanese countryside and find beautiful places to paint.

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