Archive for category Subject: Chinese painting

Chinese Brush Painting Through The Seasons

It’s been a long time since there was a book on Chinese painting, but they were once all the rage. This one has been worth the wait and is about as authentic as you can get, being adapted from a series of Chinese originals.

For all that, the approach is accessible for the Western reader and, although the introduction to materials contains some terms that may not be familiar, more obtainable alternatives are suggested. Interestingly, where colour is used, the authors prefer gouache as being more like the heavier pigment used in China itself. Previous, more Western-based books have used transparent watercolour.

The book consists of a series of simple demonstrations and, of course, simplification is very much to the fore. As a result, although each project is covered in no more than three or four pages, there is no sense of foreshortening and the number of steps is perfectly adequate. Chinese art involves working quickly and there simply isn’t that much to do – there’s no room for fiddling when you’re contending with a large, soft brush.

This is a welcome return to the world of Chinese painting which, even if you don’t want to pursue it in much depth, offers palate-cleansing simplification that can only refresh your own work.

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Chinese Brush Painting || Cheng Yan

Search Press Classics (an ad hoc series of which this is a member) is a way of re-issuing some of the publisher’s blasts from the past. Just because a book was first published some years ago doesn’t mean it’s been superseded or no longer has merit. Although it may have sold well in its time and reached most of its natural buyers then, it doesn’t mean that enough new ones won’t have come along for a new investment in stock to be worthwhile. And, of course, raiding the backlist comes with no editorial or setup costs. All publishers like that.

But enough of your smart-alec world-weary cynicism, I hear them say. How does this stand up in today’s post-apocalypse marketplace? Very well, I’m pleased to report. “Cheng Yan captures all the freshness and spontaneity of Chinese brush painting”, it says here and I couldn’t have put it better myself. The style is authentic, but presented in a way that’s readily accessible to the Western reader. The text is clear and concise, accompanying some nicely-judged step-by-step photographs and the colours are still as bright as they should be (some older books can show their age in this respect).

All the materials, styles, techniques and subjects are here and, as a modestly-priced paperback (they’re passing on some of those savings), this is a very worthwhile and rewarding introduction.

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Chinese Brush Painted Flowers || Joan Lok

This straightforward guide includes demonstrations covering 36 different varieties, each in a two-page spread. Some of them will probably be more familiar than others and I suspect that there’s been some internationalisation – my knowledge of plants being zero, I can’t confirm that, but the Baltimore Oriole (a bird) that crops up, does tend to confirm it.

The jacket proudly announces on the front that the demonstrations are “for all levels of artist from beginner up” and there’s certainly a sound introduction covering brushstrokes, foliage and composition that will help you get started. This being perhaps a less familiar technique, this will be useful to more people than many materials-and-techniques openers.

The demonstrations, covering two pages, are necessarily short, but do include a fair amount of detail: not much is required as the Chinese technique is very loose and certainly doesn’t fall into the category of botanical illustration. I suspect that you’re going to find the whole thing much easier if you have some basic experience, though. I probably wouldn’t choose this as an introduction to flower painting.

All in all, this is a thorough and varied guide, nicely presented (and I do like the fact that the editors have resisted the temptation to put the flowers in alphabetical order!). It’s unlikely to disappoint.

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Chinese Animal Painting Made Easy || Rebecca Yue

Rebecca Yue has written several previous books that adapt traditional Chinese painting methods for the Western eye and palette. Her approach does not so much dilute the pure form as adopt its methods and provide a simplification of line and form that is easy to follow and which produces attractive results using materials and methods with which her readers will be largely familiar.

The looseness of this approach is perfectly suited to creating animal paintings that have a sinuousness and a sense of movement that perfectly captures the character of her subjects and also, almost coincidentally, makes for a simplified form of animal painting that will appeal to those who find this a difficult subject. This give the book a double appeal and it also fulfils a long-felt need.

From basic techniques, Rebecca moves on to demonstrations featuring both domestic and more exotic animals, giving a variety that should cover just about all her readers’ requirements.

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The Simple Art of Chinese Brush Painting || Qu Lei Lei

“Simple Art of” is always a hostage to fortune because it risks reducing something that’s really quite complex to a mere formula, or of looking as though it’s missed the point completely. However, in this case, there’s a let-out because, of course, one of the main elements of Chinese painting is simplicity.

Chinese painting has long held a fascination for Westerners and it is this element of simplification that holds the greatest attraction. In its purest form, of course, every brushstroke carries a philosophical significance and forms and colours can often be reduced almost to abstraction.

Qu Lei Lei learnt calligraphy from his parents, but has lived in Britain since 1981 and adapts the Chinese style subtly for Western eyes, producing just slightly more realistic forms and slightly more subtle colours that sit comfortably with our expectations and palettes. This is a project-based book, so the 15 demonstrations are fairly short and beginners might find themselves wanting a little more detail. I’d suggest, however, that this something for those who already have a little experience in the field and are looking to expand the creative possibilities of the style rather than learn the most basic techniques. This is an attractive and delightful book that offers a great deal without ever labouring anything.

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The Tao Of Sketching || Qu Lei Lei

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

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