Gareth Naylor

Atmospheric paintings of Japan

Watercolor painting of a traditional Japanese building with a thatched roof by Gareth Naylor

Watercolor painting of a traditional Japanese building

Watercolor painting of a traditional Japanese building with a thatched roof
“Traditional Japanese building with a thatched roof”

Trip to Yufuin

I have a friend who is a metalwork sculptor.

He will soon have an exhibition in a small Japanese town called Yufuin.

And he asked if I would show two of my paintings in his exhibition.

I eagerly said yes. It would be a great way to promote my work.

And I thought it would be a good idea to visit this town and do some paintings of this place for the exhibition.

So Yufuin is a very popular tourist town in Japan.

And the main feature of this area is the twin peaked mountain next to the town. 

It used to be a beautiful, even idyllic, place. But then the tourist industry came and started building. 

But it still has a few nice features left such as the building in the painting above.

I drove to Yufuin.

It took about one hour. 

It was a very pleasant drive through some beautiful Japanese countryside.

However, driving through Yufuin town wasn’t so pleasant. 

In fact, it was very stressful. 

I took a wrong turn and had to navigate through a maze of very narrow streets that were crowded with tourists. 

I drove very slowly down the narrow streets. But still the car was almost brushing up against people. And these people were giving me very pissed off looks. 

I know how they feel because I’ve had the same experience.

First painting

It was hard to drive slowly though because I was desperate for the toilet.

And my first painting was done about ten meters from a toilet. 

This is the painting above.

I’ve painted this building before but I couldn’t resist painting it again. 

And I’m sure this won’t be the last time I do a painting of this building.

I love the design of traditional Japanese buildings. 

And thatched roofs are a particularly beautiful feature.

After painting this building, I soon found another subject to paint.

I’ve learnt not to waste time looking for painting subjects but to quickly find something, even if it isn’t ideal. 

After I’ve done one or two paintings then I can relax, look around more and explore.

Second painting

So my second painting was done only about a hundred meters from the first one. 

It was a painting of a lake called Kinrinko. The name means “golden fish scales”.

And it’s a beautiful scene in spite of some modern changes such as a big white concrete restaurant on the very edge of the lake.

I had to walk around a little to avoid such eye sores and also to find a spot where there were few people and thus no fear of being accidentally pushed into the lake by over-enthusiastic tourists, And despite it being a weekday, there were many tourists.

A near entanglement

Having found just such a spot I set up and was about to make my first pencil mark when a fisherman, or should I say an angler, appeared out of the blue and stepped in front of me.

He threw his line behind him, in other words right at me, and started to fish. After a few minutes he would move over to the left of me and then return.

Perhaps I should have moved but I thought I was here first and so I just continued to paint. 

If I had moved It would have taken away the anxiety about having an eyeball plucked out by a fishing hook. 

An artist with an eye-patch certainly would be memorable. In fact, there’s just such an artist and he has been incredibly successful. However, I’d still prefer to have both eyes.

Luckily, I finished the painting with both eyeballs intact. 

The angler unfortunately had a mishap. 

He cast his line when he was to the side of me and I heard a sharp crack.

I don’t know if he snapped a branch or his fishing rod but I realised, somewhat later, why he was casting his line in front of me. 

He wasn’t a territorial angler, antagonistic person or sociopath, he was trying to cast his line without getting it caught on any trees.

I just happened to be in the place with the fewest trees.

However, I just kept looking at my painting and the scene in front of me just in case he had broken his fishing rod and wanted to let out some of his frustration on me.

However, nothing happened except a few tourists coming and standing in front of me to take photos. They didn’t even ask. But then again it’s not my land.

I did though really enjoy painting this scene in spite of these distractions. 

Sadly, I was very disappointed with my painting so I’m not going to show it here.

With two paintings under my belt I felt that I could now relax a little and do some exploring. 

Also, I wanted to visit a gallery that my friend had recommended.

There was the possibility that I could show my work in this gallery.

So, I returned to the car and got my portfolio and went looking. 

After a 10 to 15 minute walk I found it and it was closed. 

This was surprising because it was Monday and the gallery leaflet said it was closed on Wednesdays.


I left this place in a very despondent mood.

And I then went on a long walkabout that lasted over two hours.

During my walkabout I was constantly looking for something to paint but I couldn’t find a beautiful scene. 

The new houses are bland boxes with none of the beauty of traditional architecture. Many of the fields have been replaced with greenhouses, which are not particularly beautiful. And there was a huge and brand new car park without even one car in it and that too – as you can imagine – was not beautiful.  

At least, they don’t have fields full of solar panels. But I expect that is coming. 

Recently, they wanted to cover an outstandingly beautiful green mountain side in Oita prefecture with solar panels. That is to say, cover it all with concrete and then put as many black solar panels on it as possible. 

It was only protests by the ordinary people that stopped this.

During my walkabout I got lost in my despondency about the ugliness of the modern world. And I also got literally lost. The latter I quite enjoyed. 

Time though was passing. The sun was beginning its slow downward journey that became moment by moment more and more beautiful. I didn’t know it yet, but the day would end in a spectacular sunset. 

Third painting

Luckily, after having walked across a few rice fields, jumped over a concrete ditch and wandered down a long lane that came to a dead end I found the river. 

I knew the river would take me back to where I had started and so I followed it. And it was along this river that I did my final painting of the day.

It wasn’t a perfect scene. I took the liberty, for instance, of removing a big hotel that was by the side of the river. I hope you don’t mind!

This river was quite dazzling in the evening light and I was entranced by the beauty of that shimmering light. 

I walked up and down this river quite a few times before I found the right spot. 

In painting, composition is the most essential thing and that means finding the best viewpoint.

It was a delight to paint this scene. There was a wonderful mellow evening mood and it felt very peaceful to paint in such conditions. 

Here is the painting that I did on the spot.

Watercolor painting of people walking by a grassy river bank
“People walking by a grassy river bank”

Although I am happy with the result, it needs improving and I will paint it again at home. 

In the second version, I will lower the height of the near riverbank. And I will attempt to make the water appear more dazzling.

I will also add some ducks.

This is because there was a flock of ducks in the water and they looked beautiful.

It was also so cheering to my heart to hear these lovely creatures quacking merrily.

Of course, it may be just my imagination that they were quacking merrily. 

They could have been asking who this weirdo is in the floppy hat and the huge sunglasses.

Certainly some passersby had slightly stunned expressions on  their faces when they saw me.

At some point while I was painting, I realized that it was beginning to get dark.

And I suddenly had the panicky thought that they might soon close the car park.

If they did, then I would be stuck here.

So I finished the painting off in a hurry. 

Then I rushed back to the carpark.

Luckily, despite the late hour, it was still open.

A spectacular sunset

In a relieved mood, I got in the car and started to drive away.

I also had a deep feeling of satisfaction as I had done some good paintings.

Yufuin is in a valley. And so, as I drove out of Yufuin, I was driving up a hill.

And it was while I was slowly driving up this hill, in a very blissful state, that I saw the beautiful evening sunlight streaming through the trees. 

It was magical. 

And I felt compelled to stop and take a few photos. 

If I was more of a free man and less of a family man I would have stayed and painted a picture.

At home, I finally painted this wonderful scene. 

It was quite a challenge and I had to experiment a lot before getting a pleasing result.

Watercolor painting of evening sunlight shining through the trees
“Evening sunlight shining through the trees”

Soon, I will be going back to Yufuin to paint some more pictures for the exhibition. 

Perhaps I shouldn’t as I will only show two paintings at the exhibition in this town and I already have enough paintings. 

However, I have this bad habit of overdoing things. 

That’s all for now,



This story was originally written in March of 2014. I’m editing it in March of 2021. So 7 years later. How time flies.

There are some things I’d like to add here. 

Firstly, I wasn’t proud of my second painting, which is of lake Kinrinko so I threw it away. And even though I still have an image of the painting, I didn’t want to show it. 

And I did some new versions of the river painting, as I said I would. However, none of them were an improvement on the original one that I did on the spot!

And this is why I believe outdoor painting is a must. 

The wonderful atmosphere you can sometimes get when painting outdoors will add a special magic to your work that you just can’t achieve at home.

I also did manage to get inside the gallery and meet the owner. We became good friends. And I now exhibit my work at her gallery. The gallery is called Dorudonyu Museum.
Here is a link to the gallery.

And here are some paintings I did of the train station in Yufuin. It was designed by a famous Japanese architect. I think his name is Arata Isozaki.

Watercolor painting of a small Japanese train station
“Small picturesque Japanese train station”
Watercolor painting of a figure walking along the platform of a small Japanese train station
“Small Japanese train station”