Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Chinese Brush Painting - An introduction

Paul Tong 

2002  [Revised 2022]


What is it?

Chinese Brush Painting has been the dominant painting style of China for many centuries. While the invention of the Chinese brush and paper dates back two thousand years, the aesthetic quality of today's painting finds its origin a thousand years ago, with the rise of the literati painters. While it covers a variety of motifs, from figures to flowers, landscape has been a dominant theme since the thirteenth century.


Chinese Brush Painting has a mood all its own, imbued with a subtle and subdued beauty. It has no dazzling bright color to draw upon - it is almost monochrome. With a spare and austere feel, it is nonetheless alluring, with an almost abstract quality to it. Instilled with the philosophy of the East, with attention to emptiness and serenity, it carries an atmosphere of tranquility and harmony. Its depiction of space can be intimate or grandiose, but always quiet and ethereal, with an air of mystery.


How is it done?

It is a water-based art form with a strong emphasis on ink. The focus is on brush technique, to achieve the most out of each stroke. It places a great demand on the quality of the ink application. This means the inks have to be applied in a lively intentional manner, with many shades of gray. The artist must make each stroke count, providing form, tone and texture. The Chinese brush, with its pliant shape, is the key. Capable of changing shape during use, it can be applied to produce a variety of effects. The other element is the Chinese paper, sometimes called "rice paper", which is a raw paper and highly absorbent. When a brush stroke is applied, there is a delayed diffusion and blending of the ink or colors as the water spreads in the paper. The changing brush shape and the spreading water work together to provide intriguing and spontaneous effects.


The painting process starts out with the application of ink to frame out the forms. Later, color can be applied in a wash process. The brush stroke must be applied with deliberation and without hesitation. In the ideal process, the forms should just flow naturally from the mind out of the brush onto the paper. The painting process itself has a spiritual dimension to it. It requires a mental state of effortless focus, a Zen-state of calm and mindfulness.


What are its aesthetic qualities?

 The ultimate goal is the mood of a scene, to allow a connection to the viewer in an emotionally transcendent way. In this, Chinese aesthetic philosophy, founded on Taoism and Zen Buddhism, provides a guide. Just as the Eastern philosophy focuses on inward cultivation, direct intuition and poetic truth, its art seeks to express the subject's inner spirit 神, its essence. Thus the idea of "spirit-likeness" 神似.  To express the inner "spirit" rather than just the exterior form of the subject, the painting should allow room for the viewer's imagination to roam and invest life into the scene. It should exhibit both likeness and "unlikeness". When the representation is too alike, the spirit is lost. It is too “stiff”, leaving no room for the imagination. Obviously, it should not have too much "unlikeness".   All in all, Chinese painting is not overly concerned with an accurate depiction of the external form. The tonal and textural qualities of the brush strokes, diffused in the paper, all come together to achieve this state of "likeness-unlikeness".


Then there is the sense of space. For landscape especially, the scene should draw in the viewer; it should transport the viewer to another world. Not only must the painting give the sense of depth, it should also provide a sense of mystery, attending to what is veiled and not revealed. The un-revealed will come alive in the mind's eye of the viewer. Another feature of Chinese landscape painting is the flexibility of perspective. The painting is usually not restricted to a single viewpoint. This is consistent with the goal of "spiritual likeness" outlined above. After all, the spirit of the mountain cannot be appreciated by looking at it from just one point of view. One must feel the mountain by traveling through it, and so it is with the painting.


How about the inscription and seal chop? 

The painting usually has a calligraphic inscription colophon and a red seal. Painting and calligraphy is considered to have the same origin in China and even to be the same art form by some. Calligraphy augments the painting. Sometimes it is a poem associated with the scene. Other times, it is a note on the inspiration of the painting. The crimson seal adds the third artistic element. The carving of seals from soapstone is an art form in itself. The seal showing the artist's name is essential, but seals with incidental messages, such as the year and place, are often included. The placement and the scope of the inscription and the seals serve to balance the painting and should be an integral part of the design. In this way, Chinese painting is actually a synthesis of three artistic elements: painting, calligraphy and seal.


Friday, December 31, 2021

Joint Art Exhibition -- PAUL TONG & SIU-CHING LUI

 

Art Exhibition

Paul Tong & Siu-ching Lui

Chinese Brush Painting (Watercolor)




Shimon and Sarah Birnbaum Jewish Community Center

775 Talamini Rd

Bridgewater, New Jersey

January 4 to January 28, 2022

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Hooray!  The paintings are all up!

You are invited to visit and view the artwork.  You can enter after ringing the front door bell and checking in.  JCC's hours and info are here.

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To view the exhibition paintings online, use this link, and click the re-direct link.

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Due to the Pandemic, there will be no reception.  Please email me for questions: pauluctong@gmail.com


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Artist Ya Ming

Artist Ya Ming (1924-2002) is known for a bold and cursive style.  I was not aware that his work also has a lot of spare and sparse compositions, with lots of white space for the soul and contemplation, as seen in the following link.

Ya Ming's mastery of white space.

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/Fi2Au8-jTF_RCsw7rLtsPQ

The third painting in the above site is a good exercise for a simple framing of a marsh, with lots of empty spaces, where a recluse is keeping quiet and cool in a boat.  It looks simple but requires brushwork sequencing to achieve the layering and density of the marsh grass groves.  Also important is the rendering of the grass in a irregular and non-repetitive manner.  Note also the flock of birds in the distance.

My version of the picture is as follows:





Friday, January 4, 2019

Art Exhibition: January 3 to 30, 2019


Most of the paintings can be viewed in the following album:

"2019 January Show"

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Class Notes 10-5-2018

Bamboo
Leaves: 
shape, proportion, relative lengths and widths, orientation, curvature,

Think in term of groupings, clusters.

Groupings and clusters: distinguish between major and minor components.

Mindful of leaves that "fly" out;  these give flair and spirit to the grouping.

Stems: avoid parallelism and alignment;  they unite the leaf clusters to form a balanced whole.

Video:
https://youtu.be/XES07nzIj8E

LANDSCAPE
Use medium ink to start.
Mainly lines and angular shapes.  Pay attention to the quality of the lines.
To build space, to separate land-form "in-front" from "behind",  strengthen the lines with dark ink, and adding dots (distant trees).
Texture with lighter ink to show "lay of the land-form" -- sheer? rounded? flat? smooth? rugged?
Use larger strokes (brush at a shallow angle) to do the distant mountains and waterfall.  White gaps left behind is the waterfall -- use a dry brush to draw in the flowing water  (just a short stroke, rounded at top and sharp at bottom).
[Adding color will be subject of the next class.]

Video:
https://youtu.be/mCVes5fSjOk

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Class notes of May 18, 2018 -- Adding color

A belated posting of the coloring process for the ink painting of the previous blog. The class video, in two parts, are viewable below.
https://youtu.be/Md6JCx7Nkdk
https://youtu.be/hjryJ1x3ms0

The final product is:

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Class Notes 5/4/2018

Here, we form yet another landscape picture using essentially the same elements as discussed in my blog of April 2, 2018 (Class notes of March 30, 2018).  We move those elements around, magnifying some, shrinking others.  We flip some around (like a mirror image).  Extra layers are added.  For a scenery with a body of water, we draw in the line to indicate the contact of the elements with the water surface.  Thus, another picture is obtained.  To add depth, we include a tree in the foreground to frame the scenery.  Water lines (like waves) and reflections work together to render the illusion of water.


The video are as follows:
Yet another landscape -- Water Scene -- Part 1
https://youtu.be/KbrD5CO-D8o
Yet another landscape -- Water Scene -- Part 2
https://youtu.be/oxX3OuCR7nc