Learning as I Paint

Sitting in Silence, by Amy Tanathorn 16x20 acrylic and tea papers on gallery canvas.

The theme I’m currently working on and obsessed with is Japanese gardens. Zen Gardens. There is something so grounding, so peaceful about the scenery that I want to paint it and share it with you, so you might feel some of that magic, too.

What I did not expect is all the learning I’m experiencing. Which is great! I love learning new things and strive to discover and grow. Especially when it involves a topic I am passionate about, like the subjects I paint!

The water element

For example, my new painting, shown above, has a stone water urn which is called a tsukubai. How do I know that? I have a calendar on my wall with a beautiful Japanese garden picture every month, and this month showed another tsukubai and it had a short article at the bottom of the calendar.

I also want to paint a quiet little fountain called a deer-chaser. And after a little bit of looking around online, I learned that this type of fountain is called a shishi odoshi. So I made up a new Pinterest board with both of these water elements and there are some extraordinarily beautiful, inspiring photos I use as reference material. Can you find the one I used in my painting?


I’m working on a new painting right now. It just has a blue wash and the outline of a seated Buddha. Standing slightly behind the Buddha shall be a lantern and the entire scene will be from a garden. A made up, mash up like A Wind Bell was. As I started looking at different garden lanterns, I again slipped down into a rabbit hole of a variety of styles. I didn’t know this!

The style of lantern I’m using for a model happens to be this one, chosen mostly because of the angle and it is not too wide. I tried a wider looking one, but over the Buddha statue, it looked like an umbrella. Turns out this kind of lantern is called Tachi Gata.  Do another image search on that one and you’ve got many more beautiful images, like this one:


Then there is a Rankei lantern, which looks like it sits on top of a wave-like pillar. That is certainly one I want to incorporate eventually. And the more modern looking Oribe lantern, which almost looks like a Frank Lloyd Wright in the angular design.

Researching and deciding

It is so fun to research this stuff as I plan my paintings. Once I decide on the subject I want to paint, it is a matter of finding the right reference material to use. Is the object at the correct angle? What kind of balance will it have overall? What else is going to be in the painting?

So this is minor stuff, but it is something I noticed as I’m getting ready to create my next piece. And I love it. The learning leads me down more beautiful paths, giving me more inspiration to paint more beautiful works of art for you.

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