Faculty of Art Japanese Painting Course

Japanese Painting Course

Finding beauty in the natural landscape

Gazing at the shifting colors of a mountain, at flowers in a field, or feeling leaves rustling in the breeze or sensing the crest of an ocean wave. Japanese painting, born and cultivated with the richness of the four seasons, has always responded to nature, expressing the beauty found in a landscape on a canvas. Depicting the beauty of nature—even as times change, this most important of qualities in Japanese painting remains constant.

This is not the same as making an exact copy of a landscape. With fruit, you paint in order to bring out a sense of the freshness and tastiness, or with a flower, you paint with an understanding of a plant’s natural cycle, from sprouting to budding and blossoming. Painting a so-called Japanese painting (Nihonga) means to perceive the invisible “essence” within nature and to express it as a powerful image.

The first step towards this kind of awareness is to place yourself in nature, and then perceive the surrounding landscape with sensitivity. SEIKA is environmentally rich, surrounded by forests that are home to small animals and birds. Furthermore, Kyoto, as a city encircled by mountains, has long maintained the traditional wa (Japanese) culture that brings nature into everyday life. There is no better place than Kyoto for learning the techniques, creativity, the history and spirituality of Japanese painting.

To love nature and enjoy a beautiful way of living may start with just a small ordinary activity like arranging flowers every day. You will surely find what you want to paint, what you should paint. And this is because Japanese painting is an art form that portrays the human mind through nature.

Four years in the Japanese Painting Course

  • 1st Year

    Conveying the texture and scent of an apple through a picture

    The first year is all about drawing from life, and SEIKA’s classes exhaustively train students’ abilities in this area. Starting with plants, vegetables and fruit, and then moving on to small animals and trees, and gradually working on more complex subjects, students cultivate their skills.

    But the ability needed for Japanese painting is not to merely depict the precise shape of a subject, but rather convey its inner characteristics, and its surrounding and atmosphere. If, for example, you paint an apple, the skill here should be in conveying its crispness, its juiciness, and its smell. You can obtain this ability to appeal to the five senses only through crossing the border between you and a subject, through getting really close to it. And then when you draw an apple or a rabbit, you will see what you should respectively depict for each. Working exhaustively on depicting a range of subjects, students acquire such techniques.

    While simultaneously coming to understand the observational skills unique to Japanese painting, first year students also study how to work with the materials of Japanese painting, such as iwaenogu (mineral pigments), nikawa (binder), Japanese paper, and so on. Once you have started to notice the landscape you pass by every day, this is proof that you have obtained the sensibility for creating Japanese painting.

    1st year
    1st Year Goals
    Continued drawing practice to master foundational skills. Appreciating the joy of dialog with nature, the essence of Japanese painting.
  • 2nd Year

    The meaning of painting the natural cycle of flowers

    Following on from the fundaments of life sketching they learned in the first year, students now deepen the way they deal with nature as a subject, and cultivate their skills. For example, depicting cherry blossom is not simply about capturing it in the “best” season, but delicately depicting the whole cycle, from when the blossom is a bud to the swelling of the bud, the flowering, and finally the flower withering. Witnessing this natural cycle of flowers, you will understand the constant changes of nature and the beauty of evanescence.

    As you improve your sketching technique, your canvas size also increases from size 30 to 50. Building on the practical skills for dealing with materials that they acquired in the first year, students learn the whole production process, from sketching to diagrams, drafts, and the final work, broadening the scope of their creativity.

    Not just motifs but blank spaces and background are also part of a picture. Being able to depict the feeling in the air and humidity through the painting is also critical. Students learn traditional techniques and absorb classic aesthetics, including kenpon (artwork drawn on silk), creating a folding fan decorated with gold leaf, and copying a landscape painting by Maruyama Okyo. Second-year students grow a lot, both technically and spiritually.

    2nd year
    2nd Year Goals
    Deepening the relationship with the subject (nature), advancing foundational drawing ability, and learning a range of techniques, including traditional methods.
  • 3rd Year

    What would you paint on a large canvas and in traditional forms?

    Divided into two classes, students now spend the year advancing their specialties. In the Japanese Painting class students expand their range of motifs, including people and landscapes, and start working on large-scale Japanese paintings. Students engage with portraits for the first time, for which the course offers extensive training starting from the basics of sketching. Students acquire the ability to depict weight and motion in addition to physical characteristics, learning the canvas composition that is unique to portrait painting.

    Another class, the Japanese (Wa) Workshop, looks at traditional techniques, such as folding screen paintings (byoubu) and hanging scrolls (kakejiku). Based on the structure and characteristics of each style, students explore producing work utilizing traditional techniques for the contemporary age through integrating contemporary motifs into the byoubu or blending in ideas from design.

    From the third year, there is no shared coursework that all students have to do. Rather, each student now individually selects a theme and motif, and produces their own artwork. While receiving individual advice from professors, students investigate the ideas and aesthetic sense they are trying to infuse into their creative endeavors.

    3rd year
    3rd Year Goals
    Divided into classes, students pursue painting based on their individual aesthetic and specialization.
  • 4th Year

    Who would you become with this painting?

    In the first semester students start independent creative work based on the theme they want to investigate further. In each class, students create large-scale work above size 100, and byoubu and kakejiku that require the use of gold leaf and intricate painting techniques. Through making presentations and receiving advice from professors, students go on to develop their concepts and creative methodologies. Spending a lot of time on their independent work in the first semester and then graduation projects in the second semester, students aspire to create more ambitious work.

    It has been four years since students began to feel their way towards a dialog with nature. And now students work on their graduation projects, each of which is highly sophisticated. While motifs are diverse, including flowers, birds, landscapes, fish, and people, what is consistent in all the work is their warmth that comes from an affection towards the motifs, the wish to be sensitive to nature. Getting close to the ideal of human empathy lies at the core of Japanese painting.

    4th year
    4th Year Goals
    Expanding the scope of your creative expression, planning a concept and theme, and exploring the possibilities of painting.

Career paths after graduating from the Japanese Painting Course

While the Japanese Painting Course trains students to be familiar with the materials and tools unique to Japanese painting, it simultaneously teaches them to depict a range of different subjects, including flowers, plants, and animals. Four years in the course means concentration on painting from nature. Equipped with the ability to see the pure essence of things and with painting skills, students have a wide range of career choices. Furthermore, because students come to know the beauty of nature, this sensibility that finds joy in everyday life can also be utilized at work.

Career choices

  • Japanese painter who portrays the spirit in nature and landscapes
  • Video game designer utilizing their painting skills
  • Textile or knickknacks designer utilizing their painting abilities
  • Specialists working to restore cultural properties

Other career options

  • Animator
  • Curator
  • Gold lacquer artisan
  • Museum curator
  • Art producer
  • Art educator
  • Illustrator
  • Character designer
  • Background designer
  • Japanese lacquer artisan etc.

Japanese Painting Course Faculty Members (in Japanese)