Chinese Painting

Collection of Chinese SketchingsA Collection of Chinese Sketches By Ancient Well-Known Artists (1997), was compiled by a family friend, Yu Tong Ho. He distributed photocopies to a handful of people when he was planning to teach a course in Chinese painting. The course never came to fruition, and sadly, he is no longer with us, but I kept the copy given to me, and I’d like to use it to develop a sense for how to compose in a similar style with particular attention on how to use the negative space.

I chose a sketch I could immediately appreciate. Gaa Wai Copy of a Chinese Painting 051219 original

Specifically, I could see four things: the individual gestures of each of the thicker leaves, the gestures of the thinner leaves, the direction or composition of the thicker leaves as it moves across the page and how the thinner leaves kind of support the composition of the thicker leaves. The thinner leaves offer another layer which gives a sense of depth, as well as lead you out into the distance, which contrasts with how the thicker leaves make your gaze want to focus on them and to stay in that general area. 

Knowing how to appreciate the original helped me focus on what was and was not necessary in my own version. 

I should note that I was informed by one other experience painting in this style. It was a course with a professional painter who was invited to teach a handful of people from the Chinese community, and it was while I was in high school. She taught us how to paint bamboo and leaves, and I vaguely remember her telling us that going from one end of a section of bamboo to another is one motion. The thickness varies only by how much pressure you apply, letting the hairs flay out more, then less and then more again.

I painted a handful of bamboo so my hands could remember and so I could become more familiar with how much paint/ink is suitable for the surface I was using, given the brush I was using. I don’t have a name for the ink (my apologies), as it was also given to me, but the brush I bought from amazon, and the paper is just newspaper print.

Below is my first attempt…

Gaa Wai Copy of a Chinese Painting 051219 1

… and my second.

Gaa Wai Copy of a Chinese Painting 051219 2

 

The Sketchbooks of Hiroshige

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

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.

Flipping through the pages of any sketchbook, you get to see the way an artist thinks visually and not just the ideas as abstract ideas but something that has already taken form… and how he thinks in a specific medium. Moreover, you see how he made use of a specific size, color and type of surface, which can limit where the lines go, how big the gestures are and the effectiveness of a given color and 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.”

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, whether it’s looking at a single, central subject or an entire scene and where where multiple figures 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. Looking at the color of the sketchbook pages, I notice there is a choice not to give it a wash but to rather make use of it to suggest it’s a certain time of day, in which you’re catching a glimpse of the work they do in the early morning hours. The color of the pages help to set the tone of the entire sketchbook. 

Salvaging Old Drawings: Fire Balloons

 

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Figure 5c

Like the initial drawing for Solar Flare, the figure above is an old drawing which I want to make use of. I’ve been thinking of creating layers and using sketches as elements in a larger story.

In my sketchbook, the figure fills the page, but it’s like the detail of a larger image. You get a character and not a full vignette, much less a full story.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Oracle.JPG

The challenge of creating a story for the element goes hand in hand with the challenge of making the new drawing look like everything in it was meant for one drawing. I was looking for something simple and which the figure could naturally support. I randomly thought of fire balloons.

I prepared the paper with tea and created my first layer, which were lines depicting clouds, in the style of old Chinese paintings and painted with coffee.

I then made a carbon copy of the figure with the idea that it would act as a double image: an oracle and a fire balloon on fire.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, sketch (1).JPG

Midway, I thought of titles, but I may have gotten ahead of myself or ahead of the drawing. I thought of “Oracle on fire and there are people watching,” and I let the words guide me, because I couldn’t think of how to complete the drawing and sketched in silhouettes of people on the bottom.

I put it away for a couple of days and when I was ready to paint, I realized it was too much or it felt contrived or it didn’t seem like the drawing was developing organically in that way. (I can’t quite articulate the problem, but people on the bottom was not the right choice.)

So I replaced them with a close up of one of the balloons, which gave me an opportunity to have two elements interact.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons

I knew, even while painting it, there were too many colors or it’s not a unified color scheme, and I definitely need to spend some time developing basic skills in watercolor. However, having completed the drawing, I could look at it critically. I could also look back at the process, which has revealed to me a few things.

Elements

New elements, like the wisps of smoke near the figure’s head and the fire/smoke in the balloon at the forefront of the picture look pretty and I’m already using them effectively as elements in this drawing, so I know I can use them again in other drawings.

They’re simple and can be used as building blocks, unlike the oracle, which seems too complex to use again in the same drawing without it looking like wallpaper or contrived in some way.

Line

In the original drawing, the lines in the bodice of the figure feel like lines from another drawing, so it looks confused.

However, if the bodice is really a balloon and the smoother lines are really fire and smoke, there would naturally be tension between the two elements, and using different lines for each can be seen as supporting this tension.

Story

It’s in the context of the story that this can work. It makes use of the structures that are already there and helps explain them.

There’s also the theme of Man vs Nature, and thus the oracle. Fire balloons are sent to float up into the heavens with the hope of granting wishes, while an oracle is burning. Or is the message too didactic?

The oracle having a girl’s face seems a little too explicit. Maybe I should focus more on the fire and less on the oracle… but the face is what’s pretty about the oracle. … Maybe it’s the hair, which looks too much like hair. Yes.

I’d forgotten the initial drawing had the face as the centerpiece and everything flowed from the figure of the girl, so it looked too much like a girl. It demands your attention and competes with the fire balloon as the center of everything, when it’s not anymore.

Color

I originally had the figure in red, but decided midway that it would be difficult to use it and have an overall unified color scheme, so I added blue to make it purple.

I’m not very good with colors, and it’s something I need to work on in terms of finding what I like. You have to like what you draw in order to gauge whether or not it’s getting better or worse each time you edit the piece.

I tend to approach my work with the idea that Less is More, and for this drawing, as with many others, I want to show off the line. I tend to use the variety of colors (if there is a variety) to help me do this.

Like Flowers II, each color can help a viewer keep an eye on an element while it interacts with another element.

The elements for this drawing are Fire (bodice of the oracle, bottom fire balloon), smoke, fire balloon (intact), fire balloon (not intact) and Oracle. (Some parts double as parts of two elements.)

Technique

Layering two colors of ink looks really cool.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Edit 1 sketch

So I decided to limit the colors to red and black (Fire vs Smoke vs Fire Balloon) The smoke and fire balloon will both be in varying hues of gray, which suggests the fire balloons, even the ones intact, are floating up like the smoke; they are both the color of ash.

This makes room for the color of the clouds, which are painted with coffee.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Edit 1, sketch 2

I had considered not having clouds and actually freaked out a little when I added them midway, because they seemed to be overwhelming the figure, but after applying ink to the bottom fire balloon, it all balanced out again. One of those things you don’t know until you try.

Because they are in a different color and are a different style of line, they do not readily interact with the figure and fire balloons, and therefore add another layer or the illusion of depth. They also make the transparency of the ink more noticeable, which underscores the idea of the fire balloons being beautiful and fragile, which creates tension with their being dangerous and their power to wreak havoc on the environment when their thin shells inevitably burn and start fires elsewhere.

WIP

I still have to finish the larger balloon and add and color in a few smaller balloons but the overall idea is there.

 

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.

033018

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 shows 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

Materials: Ballpoint Pen

Do you remember my Trees? Here are my attempts at drawing Lenny or Tree 2.

First, I did a really bad wash, then trying again, I made the mistake of using a sharpie, as a short cut, which isn’t waterproof… LOL. Then, I tried again, but I noticed — finally — that my pen work was very heavy handed. Here’s a close up of the first and third images from above.

In person, it’s much worse. I learned, eventually, that you just have to have patience with the medium. The ink won’t come out faster because you’re putting more pressure onto the paper.

I also learned that you can do a lot with a pen, like varying the intensity of the color and even shading in areas the way you would with a pencil. In fact, it’s very much like using a pencil, but the color won’t smear and it shows up more easily on digital files… yay!

Trees 2c crop

I’ve also practiced using two different techniques: hashes and randomly filling in all the little white spaces. Okay, the second one isn’t really a technique… but I think it works better, or once your hands get accustomed to doing it that way, you don’t have to be as mindful of what you’re doing. I mean, it’s easier, overall, to get an even finish.

I used hashes for the above and randomly filled in all the white spaces for the one below.

Tree 2c scan resize 10

For the record, the images at the top of the page are of the 2nd to 5th attempts and the two directly above are from the 5th and 6th attempt. They were both scanned with a setting of 600 dpi. The 5th has a wash of tea, so it’s more yellow, but as far as how smooth the color is, I’m much more pleased with the 6th.

It may be that if I had better skills at using hashes, the 5th would’ve been better.

Trees 1

Here’s an attempt of another tree (George or Tree 1). I used hashes, and I think I was doing a pretty good job, but at one point, I got a little antsy and wasn’t happy with how dark one of the sections was getting, so I desperately used a Pearl Pink eraser to try to erase some of the ink.

</P.

Above is a close up of the hashes and below is a close up of where I applied the eraser too harshly.

Trees 1, crop b

I allowed myself to do this, because an eraser can actually be your friend when using a ballpoint pen. I used the Pink Pearl eraser to get the textures for Don or Tree 3c, below.

Tree 3c scan resize 10

It did do some damage to the surface but not so much that I couldn’t keep applying ink and erasing some more. Very sturdy paper (Strathmore watercolor, series 400).

With the hashes, if done well, it looks a little like cloth, with the eraser, it reminds me of stressed denim (I don’t know why), and with randomly filling in the white spaces, it looks the most polished.

By the way, you can find the following trees on Saatchi: two versions of George or Tree 1a and Tree 1b, one version of Lenny or Tree 2c , versions of Don or Tree 3b and Tree 3c (although Tree 3b is only for show) and Val or Tree 4a.

Tree 1a scan resize 5Tree 1b scan 5
Tree 1a and Tree 1b

Tree 2c and Tree 3c

Trees Val 2 102218

Tree 4a

Materials: Tea

Lately, I’ve been working on developing some basic skills, which when done well, can go unnoticed when looking at a work of art; but if not done well, can be a distraction. I’ve also been trying my hand at using household items.

Specifically, I’ve been practicing the art of preparing paper and using a ballpoint pen as the primary medium, as well as tea as a wash. I’ll start with the tea.

I’ve learned that not all tea is created equally. Below is a picture of  Lipton Tea (left)  and Best Tea, a Taiwan brand that is made from dried whole leaves.

Gaa Wai, tea washes (1)

Lipton Tea photographs very well, because it’s more saturated in color. It would certainly be a great “dupe,” if you like using tea as a wash (I know, so niche) but are on a tight budget.

However, when applying either one, the Best Tea — like the skills of a practiced hand — was not distracting, while Lipton tea was. First, looking at the tea again, we can see that Lipton is opaque, while Best Tea has some transparency.

Gaa Wai, tea washes (2)

Also, because Lipton is darker, it’s easier to leave streaks while applying it as a wash, while Best Tea goes on smooth, whether or not you are skilled at applying washes.

I admit, I need a little more practice, as I initially just slathered on the wash with multiple brushstrokes before moving further on down the paper, as opposed to applying one brushstroke and adding more wash, so that there was always a bit of liquid at the edge of the wash.

There’s a video of Shahzia Sikander applying a tea wash in this way in “Spirituality” on Art 21‘s website. I did this for the Best Tea (bottom right). Again, it’s very subtle, between washes, but you have a lot of more control.

P1010201

Lipton Tea (top, applied 2-4 times), Best Tea (middle left, applied 5-6 times), Best Tea (bottom right, applied 2 times) and a sheet of printing paper (bottom left). There are ranges of 2-4 and 5-6, because when I used multiple brushstrokes, it was like I was applying multiple washes… ?

It doesn’t show up on camera, but when in person, you can see subtle bands of discoloration on the paper with Lipton Tea. Below is another side-by-side comparison but in different lighting. Best Tea is on the left and Lipton is on the right. Both were given the same number of washes, and Lipton of course takes fewer washes to show a difference.

Gaa Wai, tea washes on watercolor paper.JPG

I guess if you want to save time and money and aren’t adamant about having a uniformly applied wash, you should choose Lipton. But I like how subtle Best Tea can be. You have to apply it a few more times, but you have more control over the final outcome.

Next: Materials: Ballpoint Pen

 

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part III B)

In my last post, I said I felt “primed to make a mistake.” It was because, for this drawing to work, I would need to follow the rules of perspective, of which I have had very little practice.

Well, this drawing was very good practice.

flowers ii, edit i, wilted study (2)

 

First, I made a couple of studies… and made some obvious mistakes.

 

I really like the outlines and want them to shine. I need to support them, the way merely coloring them in with watercolor did not. While looking to Michelangelo’s  Study of a Mourning Woman, however, I got carried away with the details. Or I thought only of light and shadow, and it was the wrong approach, and it became a mess.

I had to decide on how the lines could work for my flowers. In what way would they serve a realistic depiction of flowers and in what way would they be for effect?

My flowers were abstract from the beginning, and their outlines didn’t justify that much detail. I decided to borrow just one move from Study of a Mourning Woman — using multiple lines to emphasize the direction of each petal.

flowers ii, edit i, wilted study (1)

I drew guidelines, the kind you use to draw a person’s face, to have an idea where the middle of each petal is, the direction it’s going in, and where there will be a curve that travels perpendiccular to its given direction. The curves will have their own path which needs to be consistent, so when a line crosses the path of a given curve, it will curve at the right moment.

 

flowers ii, edit i, wilted study (3)

It was all trial and error. I used a pencil to put down tentative lines which I had to edit by simply asking myself, “Does this look right?” I didn’t draw a single petal the way I wanted to at the first go. But that’s okay. Like I said, it was very good practice.

flowers ii, edit i 012119

It helped me appreciate how multiple lines can be more substantial in doing what a single line can do — express movement and even feeling. Giving each petal a direction was like giving each a personality, and in this way, it went beyond style.

Flowers II, Edit I  012119, detail (1).JPG

flowers ii, edit i 012119, detail (2)

flowers ii, edit i 012119, detail (3)

flowers ii, edit i 012119, detail (4)

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part III)

Whenever I get “blocked” (think “writer’s block” but for artists), it’s psychological. I mean it’s not because I’ve inexplicably run out of ideas. It’s usually something else entirely. I’m distracted or… well, it’s usually because I’m distracted, but for a variety of reasons.

Maybe I was looking at Michelangelo too much… but I kept getting the feeling that I was primed to make a mistake, and I just didn’t want to botch something that could look so awesome. Which is absurd at my age… to buckle under some imaginary pressure to do well.

Or the pressure was real but not because of the work itself. It was pressure from just wanting to do it well. Have you ever watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Audrey Hepburn, when Holly Golightly starts going on about the “mean reds?” I can’t say it was as dramatic as that, but I was responding to something outside of what I was working on and the work is what suffered.

Not sure where this falls under the bell curve… but I’m better now. I put it aside for Christmas and New Year’s… and on… and then said, f*** it, and started going at it again.

I decided to keep doing what I had already been doing, which I had told myself not to do for fear of making the drawing look too simple. To my surprise, it does not look too simple.

Moreover, while seeing something that works take shape, I began to see the why’s and how’s behind how it works.

VS Michelangelo’s Study of a Mourning Woman (SOMW)

 

I had done a few studies with the ambition of making my flowers look as cool as SOMW.  I tried to apply the technique, above, and although I succeeded with the petal that points towards the left (fourth flower, below), I can’t say the same for the petals that are vertical.  Only when I reverted back to doing what I did for the first set of flowers (the drooping ones), did I realize the ambition to look like SOMW was a major part of what “blocked” me.

 

Michelangelo was probably looking at a real live woman, so his ambition was to draw her realistically. On the other hand, it’s not perfectly realistic; IE, there are some “short cuts” or places that don’t require as much detail because other places deserve more attention. These “short cuts” are abstractions  and involve choices having to do with style.

Choosing the balance between realism and abstraction can be a very conscious choice (especially if you’re like me and over-analyze everything).

My Flowers (1) are a product of my imagination and (2) I began with outlines, so my end goal must be an abstraction or much more of one than SOMW. To finish Flowers, I had to decide on the style of lines and follow through with that style. I had to decide on “doing more of the same,” regardless of my fears of ending up with a “simple drawing.”

Flowers II 011319.JPG

People believe SOMW was an early drawing of Michelangelo’s. He was doing what many others were already doing. He just did it extremely well. He had good lines and kept them evenly spaced apart, which yielded great visual rhythm.

My Flowers also rely heavily on visual rhythm. The technique is simple, but it relies on me doing it well. It’s a matter of having good eyes and good hands. and has manifested, thus far, from what was already there, organically.

 

To be continued… 

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part II)

When I got the idea of filling the flowers in with hashes, I was probably thinking of Michelangelo’s Study of a Mourning Woman. I’d made a copy of it in 2017, and one of the most important lessons I learned, while making copies in general, is that you have to know what you’re looking at.

Study of a Woman in Mouring, scan

When I tried doing the line-work for my flowers, I realized I didn’t have a clear idea of what they looked like if they had volume. It’s tricky because they’re imaginary. I have the freedom to make them look however I want to but it also has to make sense. I mean it can be easy to miss when my mind cheats and makes the contours move a certain way because the lines that represent them look prettier that way.  When adding hashes, it became more obvious that the flowers in my had couldn’t actually work that way… or something interesting must be happening to explain the shape of the outlines.

Maybe it’s the weather… but my head turned to pudding… or as the cliche goes, the work wasn’t “speaking” to me… For some guidance (and maybe some ideas), I took another look at how Michelangelo represented the Mourning Woman.

There are some moves that are very familiar because we see them everywhere in illustrations and cartoons. I imagine many of us used these moves as children when drawing rudimentary representations of household objects, clothes or even people.

Above, I’m looking at the edge of the sleeve, where there’s more light and no shadow between the threads. In real life, we don’t see the total absence of shadows but we do see a contrast, and that’s what this move creates for us. To apply this move ourselves, we need to know where the lines are between light and shadow, while remembering that each line follows a given contour which coincides with some perspective.

Same goes for the depiction of the edge of a fold. The lines, above, follow the contours of the lines or threads which follow the curve of the fabric, and where the lines end creates the path of another line, the path on which the light follows.

Below, the move is a little more sophisticated, and it’s something I hadn’t noticed before. As with the other moves, there are multiple contour lines which individually move in a curve, while the place of each curve varies along a path of a second curve moving in another direction, but the second curve isn’t represented by the lines ending. The lines continue, so the flow of contours continue in both directions.

And finally, below, I’m looking at the straight lines which are more for effect than posterity. It underscores the direction of the hand, which counters the downward direction of the bottom of the dress. It also adds a stiffness or a stillness to the area, which contrasts with the folds and fluidity of other areas. I borrowed this move for some of my flowers.

My flowers are represented in three stages of maturity: before they open, their being newly opened and their wilting. I borrowed the straight lines for the flowers which are not yet opened.

First, I made a carbon copy of just those flowers and then experimented on them. I began with the bottom right flower and tried using straight lines, just as it’s done in Study of a Mourning Woman. This didn’t work, because having lines calls attention to where you don’t have lines, especially where the lines end. It makes it look like there’s a lot of light in the middle of each pedal. It also makes it more childlike and playful and too much like it’s an abstraction. In a Study of a Woman in Mourning, it was for effect, and I realized that’s not what I’m doing here. So I extended the lines in the flower at the bottom left. The lines follow the contours of the flower so they curve in places but they also maintain the freshness of new flowers as their curves are minimal and there are no signs of aging (or softening and eventually wilting).

Looking at the whole picture, I noticed I may have a problem with how this flower overlaps with an opened flower. Would it be too many lines?

I added to the carbon copy and experimented with those two flowers, and yay, there aren’t too many lines. But in the original, the colors of one object change when overlapping with another, I thought maybe I could make every other line blue where the flowers overlap with the vase, so I tried it… and no, it just doesn’t seem necessary, and if it’s not necessary, it’s too much. Also, using the same move on the opened flower made it look a little too stiff.

Here’s Flowers II again.

Flowers II 120418.JPG

And here’s a close-up of where I made changes.

Flowers II 120418, detail

To be continued…