MY ATTRACTION to Oriental art became evident early in my art training when an instructor remarked, “Your work has a definite Oriental flair.” I wasn't sure what she meant! At her suggestion I visited the library in search of books on Oriental painting.
It was like a kid in a candy store—so many books to choose from, on Chinese art history, Japanese sumi-E, Four Seasons paintings, and numerous self-help instruction manuals. A stack of library books, a trip to the art store for some special supplies–and I was launched in the direction my art career was destined to go.
There are three distinct qualities in Oriental painting that fascinate me: simplicity, spontaneity, and asymmetry. The use of a few well-chosen elements with simple expressive lines and the elimination of unnecessary details is the goal to capturing the essence of the scene. The immediate action of the brush, ink, and/or watercolor is often full of surprises, making for a new adventure with each painting. Space plays a major role in Oriental painting. Most often, the bulk of the composition is to one side or the other. Empty space becomes as significant as the subject matter itself.
There is no doubting the fact that this style of brushwork requires extensive practice. Learning to control the brush by repetitious practice of quick, single brushstrokes leads to more proficiency in gaining freedom of movement. Constant practice is a must! But these practice sessions have served as my personal time of meditation.
After several years of self-teaching, I enrolled in a Chinese Brush Painting class, taught by Jean Shen from Taiwan. I had the privilege of spending three semesters with Mrs. Shen. Fondly, I remember how the first half hour of each two-hour class was spent in writing Chinese calligraphy. I also remember the moans and groans from a few class members, but calligraphy was an exercise that I absolutely loved! Mrs. Shen was right—if you master the brushstrokes of calligraphy, you have mastered all the brushstrokes used in depicting bamboo, orchids, plum blossoms, and chrysanthemums, symbols of the Four Seasons.
Another highlight in my life was an extended tour of the Orient with three artist friends. We visited Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Bangkok, Singapore, and Manila. Much to my delight, we found ourselves steeped in Oriental art everywhere, including airports, restaurants, doorways and windows, and of course, beautiful architecture of temples, pagodas, gates, gardens, etc. I returned home with my many “treasures” of vases, scrolls, books, embroidery panels, jade and marble knick-knacks, and my many slides and photos.
Want to see me in action? Visit the timelapse video here on the blog and see my bamboo-with-crane painting in progress, from beginning to end.