When this landed on the mat, I nearly choked on my Cornflakes. I have a diagnosed allergy to any book that has the word ‘Tao’ in the title and isn’t about Chinese philosophy. Actually, I tend to come out in spots even when that is what they’re about, but I’m too old and too cynical to be a new-ager.
However, this is by Qu Lei Lei, who has produced some very good books in the past, so I felt it could be worth a second glance and, my word, it is. According to the press release that came with it, “The Tao of Sketching explains Taoist symbolism revealing the spirituality of Chinese Sketching and how to create ‘chi’ or the essence of living energy in a sketch, showing how you can use it as a powerful means to self-development”.
Pass. The. Sick. Bag. Alice.
The truth, of course, is that there’s a lot of philosophy in Chinese art and it gets down to the point where individual brushstrokes matter. The other truth is that this gives it a simplicity that is enormously attractive and that a lot of western artists like to study and emulate its techniques without necessarily buying into the whole mindset behind it.
Put simply – and the whole point of this is that it is put simply – this is probably the best book on sketching ever. Bar none. No, don’t even bother because I’m not going to listen to you. All that stuff about creating the living essence?, well, isn’t that pretty much the heart of sketching? Get the broad outline down quickly, work from life, don’t fiddle about with details, the sonnet is a moment’s monument, etc, etc. This is packed with illustrations, but there’s one in particular I keep coming back to. It’s a panda eating bamboo and thing is that you can sense the pandaness of it. It’s not just a picture, it really is alive and has depth and substance. Oh, OK, ‘chi’. You see, there’s just no other word for it There’s another one (this is in the 30-45 minute section) of an elephant coming down a bustling, colourful, market street and it really is, you can see it swaying through the throng, feel its sheer bulk, even hear the chatter of the market sellers. I tell you, none of this stuff is two dimensional, it’s scary.
There’s a link below. Click it. Buy this book. Do it now. You can’t afford not to.
First published 2006