Getting Unblocked

Gaa Wai 062019 Tree 4

So I’ve been a little blocked… is an understatement. (That and “life” has been keeping me busy.) But no excuses.

I’ve been watching many (many) studio vlogs on YouTube, trying to find my way back, and the variety of work helped me put some things into perspective.

I’m thinking of furrylittlepeach and Christie’s interview with Wayne Thiebauld, as well as Ping Zhu and Leigh Ellexson,

If given the task of drawing any inanimate object, each artist could make it look unique from the other artists… But what is unique? To say this is a matter of style seems to oversimplify what they do, as does ‘following an attitude.’ (Even though that may very well be what guides them.)

I think while developing one’s “style” to what it is today, each artist had to answer many smaller questions, which bridged the gap between “attitude” and form.

Looking at my own work, I noticed that I’m very drawn to a particular color scheme: background colors made from red tea and blue-grey’s (more grey than blue) and red-orange lines. While browsing Artsy (I searched Chinese ink, as that was the medium I’m already drawn to) I found myself adding one Chinese artist after another, as their color schemes seemed to be answers to questions for how to develop my own color scheme.

Overall, I want to say it’s “smoky” or airy. Maybe ethereal… which sounds… like I don’t have a clear understanding of what they’re doing. I do know that I like it though, and knowing this, as opposed to following a trend or simply being intrigued and curious, is crucial in being able to answer the smaller questions, as those aren’t apparent in finished work. I have to have an idea, even if it’s only intuitive, to focus on, to have somewhere to go (as opposed to being where everyone already is).

OTOH, seeing a variety of others’ work and looking back at my own work, I feel like treating this — not wanting to be guided entirely by any aspect of others’ work — as a rule was something that was blocking me.

While I ended up veering away from the styles I copied, I can not say it was my copying the drawings which led me to go in another direction; and while I did reflect on the experience of making a copy, I didn’t go further and think of how it could apply to work of my own.

So thinking of my own work… the questions of line, color and form remain. These will only really be answered with each specific work, but I think I’m getting closer to a combination of broadly defined aspects which can guide me… intuitively…

Line: For the brush, I think I should change my approach from using the brush to guide me to being weary of what objects will lend themselves more to lines made by a brush (thicker and greater variety in quality of line from thick to thin, etc).

More on this…

Color: I think I can benefit from more exposure to others’ work. I like what I’ve seen on Artsy. (Wang Quian, Lin Yang Qiang, Zhang Yanzi, Yiming Chai, Arnold Chang, and Xu Ming) I’d like to emphasize that I was already trying similar colors for my own work before looking at other artists.

Form: I’ve been focusing so much on my line, I’ve actually focused on forms surprisingly little or close to not at all. When looking at others’ work, I’m drawn to stories in Surrealism and/or collage. I’m thinking of Shahzia Sikander, who does this and follows a color scheme similar to the one I’m trying to develop for myself.

… I may be over-thinking this. But being blocked is a matter of psychology and I think it’s worth it to think things out, even if it seems obvious (especially after writing it down) because it helps to get the brain going through the motions.

So much of art is a matter of psychology.



Finding My Line

Bear with me as I use this blog to talk through some problems, namely with being more abstract on a fundamental level. (It’s a technical post that asks a handful of questions and provides no answers… although it may help to know that these are problems you may encounter when transitioning from a Western approach to an Eastern approach.)

Gaa Wai 062119 Tree 1

I went to a local park last weekend and discovered a very interesting looking tree. I thought I could open up the idea of this tree by taking parts of it and deconstructing it, so that I would have a new way (or my own way) of showcasing some of its nuances. I couldn’t. In hindsight, I realize I had some obstacles to overcome.

1) I was using a new vehicle (a brush) for a familiar medium (ink).

2) My moves were bigger by virtue of my using a brush.

3) I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. a) “Deconstructing” was my way of zen drawing but I didn’t put two and two together — that I had to have that approach (the one for zen drawings) to produce the same kinds of results for previous zen drawings.* b) I was outdoors and I had never tried to draw outdoors before, while in that head space.

How did I respond?

1) I went home and instead of making the video I intended to make (about the tree), I made a video on materials. (Not very exciting and, honestly, very basic. But if you’re interested, you can find it here.)

2) I pulled out two books in Chinese (Wei Xin Yi  and Li Xue Ming) from my personal library, each of which focus on the art and style of a given Chinese artist, looking for ideas. 

3) I went to the park again, but instead of going to the tree, I sat down on a bench and reconsidered my approach.

Obviously, using a different tool will have an influence on one’s approach. The moves you make with a brush will of course be bigger than those with a pencil. But there it is. Because they are bigger moves, they will be more abstract and thus I will have to be more conscious of the process for making choices. This seems to take me out of the “zen” frame of mind I would go to while drawing with a pencil.

… And yet, the sketches of Hiroshige, for which Hiroshige used a brush, look very zen… as do the works in the two books I mentioned earlier.

Hmm… I think about what I’ve seen so far in this genre. Yes — there are a lot of big moves. One of the most basic elements is the depiction of a leaf or segment of a branch with one stroke of a brush. The body of the figure below, from Li Xue Ming, is composed of a few continuous, thick lines that remind me of Chinese calligraphy, as though, for this artist, the skills for calligraphy are the same for depicting how a figure is enrobed in fabric.

Very different than the painstaking line-work of Italian Renaissance drawings. And much more abstract.

Li Xue Ming from book Li Xue Ming

Eh… getting back to me. I am very inclined to make small moves and build (ever so slowly and organically) from basic elements.

This had presented its own problems: IE, small moves can lead me to follow a subject too closely so that I simply “copy” what I see. To address this “problem,” I would simply see this approach through to the end and be more extreme. What could this approach yield for me? I knew I wasn’t capable of “copying” it that well, like a camera, and when my eyes got lazy, I knew my brain would have to interpret for my hands what it saw but on an abstract level. This is when — if I am consciously thinking of style — I can choose what kind of interpretation I will make.

This approach has worked very well for me while using a pencil or ball point pen. The [new] problem now is that I’d taken for granted how the line of a pencil or pen is consistently fine and predictable. I’d even incorporated these features into how I think, visually, and conceive of a given subject on an abstract level.

In short, a line produced with a brush varies in width and texture and is not as predictable, and I have to learn to do more with fewer moves because each move is bigger and uses up more surface area. Sketches with fewer moves also look more elegant and efficient.

To be continued… 


* I use the term, zen drawing, loosely. I could just as well say contour drawing.