Painting the Ephemeral Cherry Blossom

I could have painted the cherry blossom by the castle again today, but I felt the urge to move out of this comfort zone and try another place by the river.

I instantly regretted this urge when I felt the very cool breeze by the river blowing against me.

But I had decided so now I was following through come hell or cold breezes (okay, maybe a tsunami would make me turn around).

And I found a beautiful scene to paint after all.

It took me a while, though, to find a good composition. I would say this is the most important element of a painting. You really are doomed if you don’t get the composition right and for this reason I really don’t mind spending quite a long time looking around and making rectangular frames with my fingers

Sometimes if you find a really good composition you get a visionary flash of inspiration and that often means a brilliant painting that almost seems to paint itself. If you want to learn about composition I recommend the Complete Guide to Watercolor Painting by Edgar A Whitney – it really helped me.

When I did finally find a good composition I discovered that I had no easel! Is this senility slowly creeping up on me? Is this a portrait of the artist in decay? I chose a very down to earth solution and sat on the grass.

As I painted, the frail cherry blossom began to fall like snowflakes all over me: on my paper, on my palette and in my water bucket – where it subsequently got stuck on my brush. I had to shake myself down when I got up. This is part of what it means to be a plein air painter; an intimacy with your subject that is a true oneness.

Painting the cherry blossom, as I said before, is a challenge and the best approach is to throw away carefulness by throwing paint onto the paper – literally: it is called splattering but it could also be called fun. 

Splattering is also a good technique for a medium that doesn’t respect timidity and reveals it’s best through leaps into the abyss. In other more exciting words, who dares wins at watercolor painting.

Amazingly all this splattering and dashes of blue sky worked wonderfully well. It was really nerve-wrecking and exciting at the same time, which is normally a good sign, and it felt the same as I was painting the greenery and getting those subtle variations.

After this dried I added shadows, tree forms and figures; this is where you use your brush like a sword; forget penmanship, there’s an almost zen-like mental state as those brush strokes have to express figures and so on in the fewest strokes possible. Sadly, I’m still not much of a Samurai with a brush but I’m good enough and always getting better.

I returned home with numb fingers from a cold Spring breeze. Although when I rode back home on my bicycle that same breeze was behind me and it was blowing me so strongly that I almost didn’t have to pedal.

I am so delighted with this painting; I often have some kind of vision or dream of what I am trying to express and this painting is tantalizingly close to how I en-visioned it. What I didn’t express was the falling cherry blossom; I’m not yet ready for that challenge, perhaps next year.

And here’s a poem I wrote! Give up all hope you hope you who read this as you enter the inferno of my inventiveness.

Cherry Blossom Falling

Cherry Blossom falling

Like frail snowflakes

Looking so beautiful

Feeling so temporary

Yes, I’m afraid I do sometimes try to write poetry – why not. And although I am delighted with this painting it’s always good to see what can be improved. So after some reflection I thought that I needed to make the figures less solid and more ephemeral. Whoops, I think I mean ethereal.

That’s all for now.


This post was originally written in April of 2014. In March of 2021, when I was editing this post, I noticed that I had misspelt the word ephemeral and the autosuggest suggested the word ethereal. And that made me wonder if I had just made up a new word because I’m sure there is such a word as ephemeral. 

And then I realized that I had no letter m in my spelling of ephemeral, so I added it and then the autosuggest suggested the word ephemeral. Thus, the word does actually exist in reality and not just my imagination.

But then I thought, what’s the difference between the words ephemeral and ethereal. So a quick google search informed me that ephemeral means something that is brief, fleeting or quickly passing. Whereas ethereal means something lacking material substance and having unusual delicacy.

I think I actually meant to use the word ethereal because I didn’t want the figures to appear too heavy but to feel light and delicate like the cherry blossom.

But I also would like the painting to feel ephemeral too because the cherry blossom only remains for a brief time and it is even briefer if there is wet or windy weather. 

So I guess I’d like to express in this painting the ephemeral and the ethereal.

And here are a few other titles I was thinking of using for this article but discarded them because I thought they were too pretentious.

Painting the Ephemeral

Pink Snowflakes

Frail Petals Falling like Snowflakes

I’m also in a dilemma about the title I finally chose. Should I write “Painting the Ephemeral” or “Painting the Ephemeral Cherry Blossom”? The first one has an element of mystery and rich depth but the second one is clearer. It’s a hard choice. Perhaps I should take a walk and think upon it. Retreat, especially in creativity, is often the best form of attack.

Google God made my decision for me. I realized that the second one would be preferred by Google. And so it will be the second one.

Below is one more painting I did of this scene.

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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