The one lesson the Chinese Uni were offering that I was really looking forward to was Chinese Painting. The master artist Liang was a pleasant quiet spoken gentleman in his late thirties, quiet spoken in just Chinese unfortunately.
Our language teacher Shushu Li translated everything he said, but in reality little translation was needed. The art was about technique and using the right brushes, ink and paper.
The art supplies used in Chinese painting are fundamental to the style and are known as the Four Treasures: brush, paper, ink, and ink stone. Watching this skilful artist create first a flower drawing and then a panda was enlightening. The method involved bold strokes whilst keeping the brush vertical. For wide strokes the brush would be angled allowing more of the brush head to connect with the paper.
The paper was specially created for this type of art and had the feel of a light tracing paper, but the strength of an art paper. I found out later its called Shuan which is a rice paper. Its available in absorbent and non absorbent.
Later research identified that there were three types of brushes are used in Chinese painting:
(1) Round brushes with a sharp tip made from stiff hair such as deer or ox. The brush hairs retain a bounce or spring when wet. A decent brush will regain its sharp tip when you decrease the pressure on the brush, enabling you to vary the width of a single brushstroke by increasing or decreasing the pressure.
(2) Round brushes with a sharp tip made from soft hair such as goat or rabbit. The brush becomes floppy when wet and the hairs don’t bounce, so when it loses its shape as you apply it to the paper, giving you less control over the brushmark.
(3) Hake brushes: wide, flat brushes with short hair.
Traditionally the ink used for Chinese painting was in the form of a dried, rectangular stick of ink. To use it, you add some water to an ink stone, then rub or grind the ink stick against the stone to “dissolve” some of it, producing the ink. These days,and during our lesson liquid ink was used as it’s more convenient. The quality of the ink is more important than the form you buy it in. Watercolor paints and calligraphy inks can also be used, but tend to run more when used on wet paper. Traditional Chinese inks have gum in them to counter this.
The paper is not stretched as with watercolor painting, but is simply held down in the corners with some weights so it doesn’t move around as you paint. Placing a piece of felt, blotting paper or newsprint under the sheet you’re painting on helps to absorb any excess water and to protect the surface you’re working on.
With these basics we began our own paintings. The flower drawing our master created was a chrysanthemum. The difference in light and shade created by thinning the ink with water and allowing it to dry before adding darker areas over the top. Watching this and then attempting the technique demonstrated how skilful our resident artist was. It was difficult to get it right. My first attempts were heavy handed but with some practice I managed to make a reasonable result.
I had much better success with my drawing of a panda, a copy of the drawing made by Liang. The technique needs more practice than the one session we had but inspired me enough to purchase brushes, liquid ink and paper to practice more at home.
All Chinese paintings are authenticated by the name of the artist, usually a poem or title of the piece and a stamp signature in red ink. Wishing to honour this tradition I had my own stamp created carved with “Photographer” written in Chinese, allowing me to authenticate my drawing with my own Chinese red stamp. Adding the title ‘Panda’ (also written in Chinese) to my drawing made this piece complete.
The picture below is my version of Liang’s panda drawing.