The Geishas – Art and Imagination

Every year I choose a single word to guide me. For 2020, that word is IMAGINATION, and with my renewed interest in watercolors, no word could be more perfect. Watercolor naturally lends itself to imagination. Much like Rorschach inkblots, a watercolor painting can be seen in many ways. Unlike those psychological tests, however, watercolors have an added dimension. The various colors, the ways in which they dance and play together, the shapes they form all become elements by which our imagination can create a scene, a narrative, a story, an idea.

When I painted this little abstract expressionist watercolor, I had no pre-conceived notion of what it would be, but as the colors spilled across the page, I saw at once what it wanted to be.

Can you see the geishas?

The Geishas (2)
The Geishas – Abstract Expression Watercolor

Of course, I’ve been influenced by my love of Mary Cassatt’s art. She, in turn, was influenced by Japanese art, so from that perspective it’s not surprising that I would see dark-haired geishas in long kimonos.

I thought of taking one of my artist pens and making this into a “line and wash” work, adding in a few details here and there to make it obvious that these are geishas. But then I thought again. Maybe I’ll print out a copy of this and play with a little ink, but I’m not touching this original. I love it just as it is. I love the colors. I love the suggestions of the different geishas. I love the shadows.

This simple painting came about as a result of my morning watercolor play-time. Each morning I use a small sheet of watercolor paper, wet it down, and begin dropping in colors. I watch the colors. I see where they want to go. With a brush — or sometimes by picking up the sheet and tilting it a bit — I gently guide the colors. As I do, my imagination takes over.

What is this? What could it be? What is it becoming?

I watch the colors in fascination, and time after time I marvel at what the paints are creating before my very eyes. My watercolors have become gorgeous gardens of flowers, mystical places to visit, strange swirlings of pure imagination. Some you have seen before and others you’ll be seeing soon.

Although I still question whether or not these expressionist paintings can be calledΒ art, I enjoy making them — or letting them make themselves, actually. I love letting my imagination play with these paintings, and I hope you enjoy seeing them.

So, tell me… can you see the geishas? Or are they merely figments of my imagination?


  1. Sumi-e is about capturing the spirit of the subject, not creating an exact likeness. That’s why Asian art techniques tend to focus on organic line work and are often void of color. Minimal brush strokes that capture the spirit is what gives it its distinct light-handed or airy look. I do see several geisha, and I think you are right to not touch it with extra details, so that it carries more of a spirit of the geisha. But by all means print it out or digitally play with additional lines and details to see what happens when those are added. Doing abstract blobs and then seeing what can be found in them is a timeless way of having fun with paint. There’s even a word for seeing objects in things: pareidolia. πŸ™‚ I do this all the time with paint, carpets, doors, wood furnishings, trees, rocks, clouds, etc.

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    1. I figured you’d see the geishas… at least, I was hoping you would. I really loved the way these blobs formed themselves into something I personally found beautiful.

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      1. Yeah, the “hair” is probably the first feature the eye picks up, but the flow of the colors around the dark blobs seems to suggest long-sleeved kimono, bowed heads, and graceful poses, all definitely indicative of geisha mannerisms and attire. Nicely done. πŸ™‚

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  2. I think you picked an apt title. I see it too. Now whether I see it because I saw the title, or I see it because I see it I can’t tell you. And I love your morning exercise. I am going to have to start trying that. Sounds like so much fun!

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