Copying Li Xue Ming (Part II)

Gaa Wai Copy of Li Xue Ming b 082419

This is Part II of Copying Li Xue Ming. In the video, I’ve chosen a portion of a painting by the artist to sketch. It’s the same painting as the one in Part I, but I focus on the cave, as opposed to the figure inside. I begin by commenting on the work as a whole and then talk through (often rambling, sorry) what I’m thinking while responding to the work with a brush.

It’s fairly long (30:06), and I start sketching (after a trial run) at 6:25 or so.



Copying Li Xue Ming (Part I)

Li Xue MingI recently moved, and out of the 437 that I own, this is one of the few books I could bring with me. I bought it at a brick and mortar store in China Town in San Francisco a few years ago.

I was having fun exploring the area, so discovering the artist, Li Xue Ming, may seem a little random.

I’ve been saving it for a rainy day, so to speak (IE, just one of those days when you want to discover something that sparks joy in your life), and hitting two birds (or if you want two bottles or two inanimate objects) with one stone, it also gave me a chance to think about how to develop my own style of line by looking at somebody else’s.

This video is of me preparing and using Chinese ink the old-fashioned way while sketching a figure inside one of his paintings.

I’m also preparing Part II, where I give a response to the work and sketch what surrounds the figure.

Gaa Wai Copy of Li Xue Ming 082419

Graphics of the German Expressionists

Sabarsky, Graphics of the German ExpressionistsIt occurred to me that maybe I shouldn’t be thinking of my art in terms of the line. The approach to German Expressionism, for example, I think was to focus not on the line but on how colors fill up space, particularly black; even how the lines fill up space, as they are so thick.

I happened to have the book, Graphics of the German Expressionists (1984), by Serge Sabarsky, on my book shelf. (I found this gem in a used book store.) The historical context (1910’s – 1930’s) from which this kind of work arose helps to understand the intent and approach of the artists.


The confusion and disorientation of modern man at the turn of the century created a need for immediate and tangible meanings. As a result the arts moved in the direction of a new primitivism. This opened the way to the rediscovery of graphic techniques. In… their woodcuts, the German artists, especially the members of the Brücke, developed a style that used crudely simplified… forms….

… The printing of manifestos especially was almost exclusively done with carved woodblocks. These… were characterized by an immediacy that makes them… as modern today as they were six or seven decades ago. (pp 9 – 10)

I want to emphasize this idea of “immediacy.” In terms of the line, thicker lines are bold and slower to move. It’s not about how well the elements flow but standing one’s ground. Wood blocks, in particular, can be described as emblematic. Or that’s one interpretation.

If I only think in terms of the line, I will be inclined to be guided by how well the lines flow. With the thicker lines you get from a brush, I should think not of how it flows, but how it fills up space. Or, if I want to continue to be guided by the “flow” of elements, I should focus not on two-dimensional depictions of line, but on three-dimensional depictions of how the “line” seems to fill up the illusion of space.

But this moves us away from German Expressionism, as the flatness of their work is another quality the artists commonly used for effect. Their work was intentionally made simple, in order to be emotionally accessible.

Below is a video that looks at specific examples and is not so much a book review as some first impressions of this movement and graphic art in general.

I start talking about the book at 1:26. 


The Sketchbooks of Hiroshige

The Sketchbooks of Hiroshige (2001) by Daniel J Boorstin (foreward) and Sherman E Lee (introduction)

[Transcript of video below.]

I recently discovered this at a used bookstore. It’s a reproduction of two sketchbooks by a Japanese artist by the name of Hiroshige, which are currently held in The Library of Congress.

There are two editions. One is perfect bound and the other, this one, opens out like an accordion, which is similar to how classic Japanese literature were bound. In the perfect bound edition, you don’t get to see the sketches all the way to the edge. While, after a brief forward and introduction, [this edition] immediately gets into the plates and you can open up each volume in its entirety. Each page flowing into the other page.

I don’t personally keep a sketchbook, because the size of the surface area I know has an influence on what I draw… where the lines go, how big my gestures are… as do the color of the surface and what kind of medium I’m using.

I do enjoy looking through the sketchbooks of other artists as well as the drawings they create on free leaf, because you get to see the way an artist thinks and not just the ideas as abstract ideas but something that has already taken form… and how the artist thinks in a specific medium.

To quote Daniel Boorstin, in his foreward, “The economy of these pages, like the simplicity of the Japanese garden, reminds us of the Zen paradox of the redolence and fullness of empty space.”

So again, the color of the background is important, and I’m glad it’s all uniform, because Hiroshige is utilizing the negative space as a major feature, so it’s really easy to see and appreciate the simplicity of his gestures and strokes, which somehow depict a scene in a very vivid and meaningful way… and it’s not just the gesture of a single, central subject. It’s an entire scene and where they stand in relation to each other.

In only a few strokes, you know these are two people here and two more here carrying a load of some kind together… and here are some shrubbery… and back to the color again, which suggests it’s a certain time of day, in which you’re catching a glimpse of the work they do in the early morning hours.

Salvaging Old Drawings: Solar Flare

I have a few things that are products of automatic drawing, which I’ve put aside for a while. I always wanted to do something with them but, until now, I couldn’t think of anything.

They are works in progress. (Sorry, more incomplete work.) But they share something in common: each were completed in one sitting but can be used as an “element” in a larger work.

For the first two, I was limited by the actual surface area.


When I ran out of room, I simply stopped. This was last year and at the time I wasn’t at home, where I could reach for a larger piece of paper, and once I was home, I had stepped out of the right frame of mind and didn’t bother trying to find it again.

Drawing, Teel SaleWell, in 2009, I had bought a book that takes you through techniques in contemporary drawing (Drawing, 5th edition (2003), by Teel Sale, et al), and recently, an image I’d seen while flipping through its pages, had lead me to a place, mentally, where I could expand on the above ideas.

It was Brice Marden’s Cold Mountain Addendum 1 (1991-1992). It’s on p. 60, in Chapter 2, which is on “gesture and other beginning approaches,” and is used as an example of a continuous drawing.


Brice Marden, Cold Mountain Addendum, 1991You know how they say, “There’s no role too small for an actor?” It reminds me that, no matter how basic one’s approach is, you can still create something as moving and intriguing as this.

Material used were ink, ink wash and gouache on paper, which also gives me ideas, although, for now, I’m sticking to ballpoint pen, at least until I’m sure of what I’m doing.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, sketch  (1).JPG

I’m tentatively calling this Solar Flare. I made a carbon copy of the top drawing (above) and considered simply repeating it over and over again… but it quickly started looking like a wallpaper design.

Do you see how in the initial drawing there appears to be a girl’s head? It’s fine if I do it once, but it’s easy to notice if I do it more than once. I thought it would be enough to change all but one of those places where the girl’s head hows up.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, sketch  (2).JPG

But it wasn’t enough. I began noticing how the other part of the initial drawing was making patterns. It was becoming “easy,” which doesn’t incline a viewer to keep one’s eyes roaming through the whole work, and although I’d wanted to call this “Wires” before, and even had planned on drawing half of the lines in green pen, I can’t help but see this other part of the initial drawing as a flower.

On the other hand,… maybe I was being too ambitious. Maybe I should see this approach through (using one drawing over and over again). I could be hanging onto the idea only because I like parts of it, mostly the new parts… and it takes a lot of time… and there was so much hope for the initial idea… Sigh…

But I decided to start over again with the intent to use the flower as a recurring element, but to space them out with new lines and to make sure no two flowers are going in the same direction or doing the same exact thing.

I’m in the process of making a carbon copy of the larger work, and along the way, editing the lines or making different choices than the first attempt, one 9″ x 12″ sheet of tracing paper at a time.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, sketch (5)

I never do a good trace, so I really am drawing the image over again, which is good practice for drawing “good” lines and maybe even developing a style… ?

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, edit 1, sketch (6)

So far, this is what I have for my second attempt.

Next: Fire Balloons


Dessin puriste (1925)

This is another response to an individual work, a copy of which can be found in Krauss’ book, The Picasso Papers.

Before I get to this, though, let me offer some quick notes to the essay, “The Circulation of Signs.” Krauss brought up an interesting issue in the introductory essay, while discussing Picasso’s work in general: if the meaning expressed in a given work which is abstract is self-referential, the meaning can be without value. (Please see a previous post, All signs lead to Picasso.) Because this is in the introductory essay, I thought she would spend the length of the book addressing its main concern. She does somewhat, and I’ve included what I found useful in my post, Violin (1912); however, she spends most of her time discussing how several different works refer to ongoing political concerns during the time that the works were created. (So the works refer to issues that lie beyond the work, and issues very specific to a time and place, and thus, they are not self-referential.)

I am a little disappointed. To address the issue in her introductory essay, I can again only offer my own opinion, and that is that if a given work has good form, it has something of value. OTOH, art is inherently a social medium; IE, it is made with an audience in mind. It doesn’t have to be political, but the more it comments/engages with issues that lie beyond the work, the more it engages with its audience on a level that is beyond form itself.

Okay, moving onto the work I am responding to. I thought it was by Picasso but it’s  actually by Amedee Ozenfant. It can be found in the section entitled Picasso-Pistache.

Krauss goes on at length about how Picasso was criticized for creating pastiches of works/styles which were created/used by his contemporaries. I have not finished the essay, so I can only say that thus far she offers two responses: one which is critical and one which seems to justify what Picasso did by saying that he took the style of a given artist and then did more.

Today, we seem to allow this but call it “appropriating” the style of another artist but “making it one’s own.”

More on this later…


The above picture seems to be a pastiche of what Picasso was doing at the time. It is a flat representation of the objects, and the contour of one object may share the same lines of the contour of another object. Ozenfant seems to go further in a particular direction that does not make me think of Picasso, per se; and that is how the picture is scored horizontally and vertically by how the contours of certain objects run along what would be one of two grids, one which divides the picture into thirds and the other into quarters. This does not happen with all the lines, but it happens so often that it looks intentional. It creates some interesting visual rhythm which is not very obvious.

What it fails to do which Picasso does so well in his cubist work is create tension between the flatness of the work and the illusion of dimension. This is because there are no vanishing points. You can compare this to Landscape with Posters (1912), which has multiple vanishing points. It is only flat and thus less engaging.


I tried to do this by eye, but eventually I had to use a grid, because so much of what is effective of this drawing depends on how well certain lines match up with other lines.



When I was done with the pencil version, I simply added ink using a ball-point pen.


I only wanted to make sure I had smooth lines (so I compulsively went over the lines until they “flowed” well). However, looking at the finished version, I think the variation of thicknesses in the lines creates some illusion of depth and thus creates some tension between the illusion of depth and the flatness of the drawing.

In short, it doesn’t look as flat as the original, which I guess is neither better nor worse, as the goal of drawing the original was achieved probably, in part, in its flatness. However, it was interesting to see where the drawing could go with myself executing the drawing.

Landscape with Posters (1912) Part 2


This is continued from the previous post, Landscape with Posters (1912).

Seeing the finished work can be overwhelming, and I think that’s part of its appeal. You can get lost in it. So while making a copy, I was pleasantly surprised to see the picture open up to me. In order to find a starting point, my eyes followed the horizontal lines, and I noticed that they scored the picture regularly.

While drawing diagonal lines, I noticed two were set apart from each other but parallel, so they framed a part of the picture at an angle.


I then noticed other parts designated by lines that are parallel to each other, which intersect each other. These spaces are where you can focus your gaze; you can get lost in them.


The variety of angles or perspectives or vanishing points, or however you would like to describe the lines which create these spaces, create a kind of ebb and flow, while the visual rhythm of the horizontal lines unify the picture as a whole.

The process was very simple. I copied it by eye, first in pencil.


I then added ink.

I really liked the idea of applying ink to only one set of parallel lines; EG, all the horizontal lines. However, I wanted to see if I could do more. Interestingly, adding ink to all the lines seemed to be too much, so I considered using different colored inks, so that you could see the ebb and flow more easily. However, doing so took away from the unity of the original. I eventually settled on using a variety of thicknesses.

For the below, I simply went over the lines in pencil with a black ball point pen.


For the final version, the vertical lines were left only in ball point pen. The horizontal lines have black gel pen over the ball point pen. For the diagonal lines, I applied blue gel pen over the black ball point pen and then a black gel pen over the blue gel pen.


I then added shadows which mimicked the variety of tones in the black and white digital copy of the original offered in the book. This further added greater depth and contrast between the spaces.

Landscape with Posters (1912)

This is a post relating to the book, The Picasso Papers, by Rosalind E. Krauss. Please see my two previous posts: Violin (1912) and All signs lead to Picasso.


Here are some notes on Landscape with Posters (1912).


When looking at any scene, all the lines are at a variety of angles, but Picasso allows himself to draw some lines parallel which should not be parallel. This creates multiple vanishing points and more visual rhythm than what the original may have had.

Visual rhythm is always nice, but when each element being expressed rhythmically has meaning (IE, it signifies something), the meaning itself becomes manifold and the experience of viewing the work becomes more substantive. For example, the lines denoting a variety of ground levels is the idea of the ground expressed in avariety of contexts. It isn’t only the rhythm of lines but the rhythm of the earth or any other idea associated with the ground.

You also have the rhythm of doorways (notice there are two) and the rhythm of walls. And then you have the occasional “poster,”which breaks up what Picasso might’ve thought was monotonous and which gives a viewer a few places to focus one’s attention.

There are also some really nice moves: EG, the bottom of a wall receding beyond the opening of a door, which is made more interesting with the rectangle surrounding the door which depicts a building. It’s not stated in the picture, but seeing a door to a building and not just what would be an archway is associated with experiences of when you may have wondered about what’s inside a place. You don’t see what’s inside, and this invites you to wonder what could be.


Violin (1912)

Krauss, The Picasso PapersThe Picasso Papers, by Rosalind E. Krauss. Continued from All Signs Lead to Picasso.

In her first essay, “Circulation of Signs,”Krauss offers responses to individual works. So, likewise, I’ve decided to offer my own thoughts on Picasso’s Violin (1912), along with a couple of Krauss’ ideas which I found technically useful. 

Violin (1912) as a whole is an amalgam of surfaces, and yet you get a sense of the  “thingness” of the object, but in a way which makes us conscious of the elements which express themselves otherwise naturally and are often received somewhat subconsciously.

The three dimensional quality is expressed in only what is essential to express a three dimensional object, which is much less than what a photo of a violin expresses. There is no shared “horizon,” into which everything “vanishes.” There are only shadows and all parts of the violin, seen from different angles, can be seen all at once.

A violin is a complex object. The way it plays with the light is beautiful, and Picasso conveys this with the stark contrast of light and dark areas. Using newspaper print, he also conveys what Krauss calls “atmosphere.” She discusses how he makes use of positive and negative space, as an example of how the meaning of the signs used are internal and relative to each other. IE, the contour of one element is the contour of another and either can be signifier (of a violin or part of a violin) and background.


Only when finishing the drawing did I realize how important the use of collage is to this work. When I only used pencil, it fell flat.


I think there is so much going on in the newspaper that it stands out as a different surface. The image of individual letters lined across the columns, which create visual rhythm, are enough to make its audience see it (even as part of a digital image, which is then printed into a book and then photographed for this blog) as a different surface, and thus lends itself to the illusion of depth.


Maybe if I simply make the gray areas more busy. Here is the original side by side with either version.

I think the unevenness of the second version creates the illusion of more depth than the first version. It appears more airy and recedes further back into the picture than the spaces filled in with charcoal. The spaces filled in with pencil in the first version seem to share and compete with the spaces of charcoal, because they are too similar. When the surfaces are more varied, there is more complexity of depth overall.