Sasebo Revisited

Sasebo Revisited

Sea Sparkle

Chance visit

My first visit to Sasebo was purely by chance. My father had come to Japan and we were taking him to the sightseeing places. And it was my wife who chose Sasebo as one of the places to visit.

Deep impression

Although we only visited Sasebo for one day it made a deep impression upon me. We took a boat cruise around the islands and it was wonderful. The weather was also ideal, it was cloudy but at times the sun would come out brilliantly and powerfully and create a sparkling blaze of light across a patch of sea.


From the photos I took from that one day I have painted many paintings – my wife even thought that I became a little obsessive although she later thought that those paintings were some of my works. If I was obsessed it came from being so inspired by the beauty of this place and the feeling of having found a place that was quintessential Japan and that I had so long looked for and which so many times I had not found and had felt extreme disappointment if not quasi-despair about.

Watercolor Painting of a sea scene from Sasebo in Nagasaki prefecture, Japan.

Island Calm


I don’t know why exactly – because I fail to keep an accurate journal of my work (perhaps because creativity and organization just don’t seem to go together) – I came back to my paintings of Sasebo. It was possibly the rather mundane desire to organize all my sketches and failed paintings of this place. But it could also be that I was going to use one of these paintings of Sasebo for my 2 Brush Method course.


Whatever the exact reason, or reasons, once I started the inspiration came back. At first, though, as is often the case, the first paintings were not very good and I experienced a lot of frustration. At some point I got tired with the failures and decided to go back to my original photos as I had been copying from previous paintings and memory – a very bad practice. In particular I was unhappy with a particular island that I was trying to paint. It just wasn’t right. When I checked it with an original photo of that particular island I was shocked and somewhat embarrassed by how different the shapes was to what I had painted and what I had remembered.

A strange exotic island

Below is one of the first attempts to capture this island shape. I find this shape fascinating. It is such an unusual shape in being a rocky mound with fir trees upon it and at the bottom having a long flat length that is short on one side of the rock mound and long on the other – this gives it an elegant and somewhat dynamic shape – this is especially true as the mound does not go directly up but tilts to one side. The whole shape is for my eyes exotic.

A watercolor study of a beautiful island in Sasebo.

One of the things that really excited me was the reflection which was not a perfect reflection but just a suggestion.

Composition Studies

Then I started to play with the composition. I like to do a lot of little sketches to get an idea of what would make the best scene – although sometimes they all look good!

Watercolor composition studies.

Simple watercolor composition studies.

First stark attempts

At first I did some very stark 2 color paintings of this island in its natural setting but played with the composition. My main emphasis at this point was on trying to capture the sparkle in the water – for me this is the most wonderful phenomenon in the painting.

Beautiful Japanese Island

Sea Sparkle


Mild Evening Sky

Next, I imagined a warm evening sky behind the island. I wanted the sun having gone down but the sky still being a warm orange – basically, a warm and dramatic evening sky but also somewhat subdued.

Sasebo: Warm Evening Sky

Several more attempts

I then did several more paintings with this warm evening sky and used a different arrangement of island shapes and rocks. It was a lot of fun but it can be easy to get lost in all this play.

Evening Sea Scene in Sasebo

The Beautiful Islands of Sasebo

And here is one more!

I was really getting carried away as you can perhaps see. I did one more painting with a very dramatic sky. Below there is a time-lapse video showing this picture being created.

Dramatic Seascape in Sasebo

Reluctant conclusion

I wanted to do more paintings of this lovely island with different kinds of skies. I wanted for instance, to try a dramatic evening sky with the sun still above the horizon as well as a sky that is a dramatic play of evening sunlight and clouds – but I also need to move on to another painting in order to finish my 2020 calendar. At least that is my intention at the moment, I might get distracted by some other idea. So this is a reluctant stop but I know at some point in the future I’ll be painting more pictures of Sasebo – and who know, maybe I’ll even be going back there soon, that would be fun.

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 one of these paintings 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. 

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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