Painting of a Heavenly Moment

The Challenge of painting a countryside scene

I would sooner paint an urban scene rather than a countryside scene. Urban scenes are easy to paint – all those lines, such as power lines, road lines and so on – just make it easy to paint and also interesting. 

I’d probably sooner paint a utility pole than a tree. Trees are difficult to paint. And I always tell my watercolor students that if you can paint a really good tree then you are already a really good artist. 

Last year, I painted over 200 fir trees. Nearly all of them ended up in the bin. And I’ve been painting for 20 years.

But I know how beautiful a painting of a countryside scene can be so I do try to paint them. No matter how visually interesting an urban scene can be, a countryside scene just touches the heart in a way that an urban scene can’t.

I think what makes countryside scenes so difficult to paint – besides the lack of lines – is the excessive sameness such as in Japan where you have an endless range of hills covered in trees. I see Japanese paintings of such scenes and I find them monotonous.

For this reason, things that stick out in a big way, such as a single tree in a field or a house are so important. An interesting perspective can also work.

And also to have a dramatic sky can really help as happened to me when I was driving around in a national park called Kuju.

A Lucky Moment

So I was very lucky when I went to this national park. It was a cloudy day and not at all inspiring. But, then, suddenly the sun burst out and everything was magically transformed into golden light and white mist.

My paintings of this moment cannot do justice to the beauty of that moment but that magical moment was the inspiration for them.

Sketchy beginnings

Sadly, I didn’t have my painting gear so I couldn’t paint the scene. But I took some photos and at home I made some sketches. 

I’m now developing the habit of painting on a small size so I can organize my work into an A4 file.

I also use multimedia paper for my sketches and sometimes even my finished work. The paper is very thin and as you can see in the painting above I actually tore the paper. I was trying to create that dazzling white sunlight in the ground and as I rubbed on the thin paper it tore. 

Good watercolor paper is very thick and tough and allows for quite vigorous rubbing.

I used the multimedia paper though because it is much cheaper than good watercolor paper and that makes me far more bolder in my painting than when I paint on expensive paper – it’s taken me 20 years to realize this. 

As a result, some of my sketches done on cheaper paper far outshine my “finished” paintings done on good quality paper. 

Anyway, if you look at the paintings below you can make up your own mind. The one on the left is a sketch on cheapish paper and the one on the right is done on good quality watercolor paper. 

Personally I think the one done on the cheapish paper has more vitality to it.

Trial and Error – mostly error

The painting below is the original image that I tried to paint.

I must have painted this scene about 30 times. It was so challenging for me. 

In fact, I gave up for a week or two. But I came back to it and decided to print out the original photo (because I was mostly painting from my imagination – which was a bad idea) and figure out if the painting was worth continuing with.

In the process of looking at my photos I also saw some other scenes of the park that looked good and so I tried some of them and they worked out very well. The top painting is one of them.

I realized that by doing a super dramatic sky I could capture to some extent that magical moment I witnessed. I feel a lot of satisfaction when I look at these paintings because I really felt I was working on a lost cause. 

I’m so glad now that I stuck with it. Just like that day, it began badly but then the sun came out and things became glorious.

A Deeper Story Surrounding this Painting

Perhaps I should give some more context to this story though. 

So the reason I was in this national park on that day was because I was finishing an exhibition.

It was December of 2018 and I’d had a one month exhibition at a cafe in Kuju.

I’ve done several exhibitions at this cafe and always sold some paintings. Sometimes I’d made quite a lot of money. But on this occasion I had sold nothing.

I was crestfallen.

I had also invited my friend to exhibit along with me. Luckily, he had actually sold some of his works.

The day before going to the cafe to take our work back my friend had called me.

And we had both agreed to meet on that final day.

When I arrived at the cafe though my friend had still not come.

My friend is quite a character and often makes me laugh and I missed his presence.

And as I was tidying up my paintings, feeling quite glum about having sold nothing, I was a little excited about the prospect of meeting my friend and having someone to chat with. 

It would, I thought, cheer me up somewhat.

But, silly me, at some point I looked around the exhibition space and realized that nearly all of his work was gone.

I don’t know why I didn’t realize this before.

So I asked the owner if my friend had come and he said yes.

My friend had come very early and just left without waiting to even say hi.

I can’t tell you how hurt I was by that.

Perhaps what had fooled me was that a few of his works will still on display.

My friend later told me that the owner had asked him to leave a few of his works on display in the cafe.

Perhaps I should add that the owner didn’t ask me to leave any of my work on display.

That hurt.

I have to let you know though that I really like the owner and get on very well with him. He is also an artist and a very kind man. And his gallery space is one of the best I’ve ever exhibited at.

Anyway, I left the cafe and started driving home.

It was an absolutely miserable day. It was gray and a gentle drizzle was falling.

I came to a crossroads and for some reason instead of turning left and going towards home I turned right and started driving deeper into the national park.

I think I was just wallowing in my sadness while I drove off with no destination in mind.

It is at times like this that you feel so stupid for trying to be an artist. You wish that you had never had an interest in art. It feels like you have been cursed. Why couldn’t I have been an engineer I thought – something practical that people want.

And you feel so vulnerable and that you have put yourself in such a vulnerable position by becoming an artist.

It was then that something happened. For although it had been cloudy and it had been raining there started to appear gaps in the clouds and a beautiful soft light started to appear. 

It was mesmerizing and I stopped the car to watch these gaps of light appear.

And then suddenly the sun came out like the gates of heaven were opening up and everything went from dull, gray and wet into gold and white mist – it was wonderful.

It is no doubt my imagination but I really felt that when the sun came out like that it was God saying to me that he would never abandon me. It was an immense comfort.

I took some photos and later back at home I tried to capture that heavenly moment – and it didn’t work. 

I did painting after painting and they just kept failing. After about 2 weeks I gave up and moved onto another painting.

And then several weeks later I came back and tried again. And tried and tried. And then at last, just like that day in the park, the clouds parted and hallelujah a beautiful painting appeared – and then another beautiful painting came and I just kept on painting new ones.

Here are a few more.

Below is a larger painting I did.

I hope this story brought a little inspiration and joy into your life,


Gareth Naylor

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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