Notebook, 1993-

Preface - Way - Principle - Idea - Method - Synthesis - References

[Wong, Wucius. The Tao of Chinese Landscape Painting, Principles & Methods. New York: Design Press. 1991.]


Part Two - (cont.)

Whereas land provides solid elements with definite forms, water, as a liquid element, helps to enhance the sense of movement in a painting. Water tends to seek a level surface if it is contained. It fills cavities and, easily affected by gravity, will rush down slanting channel beds and passages. Water has no form of its own, except for its surface patterns, which may display some specific shapes. The general shape of a body of water is defined by the land that marks its edge, on one, two, or more sides. So, with reference to its relationship with land, water breaks down into three basic types: sheet formations, band formations, and step formations. [p. 50]

Sheet Formations. The term sheet formations refers to large, level bodies of water. These are found on oceans and seas, which may or may not be next to any coastal land and which may contain islands [Figs. 169-171]. Bays, with surrounding land on one or more sides [Fig. 172], and lakes, completely or almost completely surrounded by land [Fig. 173], also represent sheet formations.

An artist might depict a sheet formation graphically either as a horizontally placed rectangle, a circle, or a less readily identifiable shape [Figs. 174-176]. Varying The edges in a curvilinear manner and converting the figure into a stack of serial planes, the artist could obtain broad patterns made by the flow of currents [Figs. 177, 178]. With added land formations, some edges become more clearly defined [Fig. 179]. [p. 51]

Band Formations. As water flows along a valley or through a gorge, it runs and winds as a band. Band formations denote creeks, streams, and rivers, which move forward with directional significance. These can be illustrated diagramtically as a horizontally placed S-shape with a bit of perspective [Fig 180]. Notice that the band widens as the curves turn downward and narrows as they turn sideways, and that the lower end, which is closer, is wider than the upper end, in the distance.

If it represents a big river, a band formation can appear as a broad passage [Fig. 181]. In most cases, it is a narrow path, sometimes completely exposed [Fig. 182], sometimes partially concealed [Fig. 183], leading to a sheet formation [Fig. 184]. The land formation it passes through can appear as vertical cliffs [Fig. 185], or as a series of gradually sloping projections, or sand banks [Fig. 186]. [p. 52]

Step Formations. In a band formation, water might move from a higher level to a lower level, but the change is always gradual. A sudden change of level causes the water to jump, resulting in a step formation. This could be in one or two simple steps, or multiple steps [Figs. 187, 188]. The steps need not be parallel, and could split into rows [Figs. 189, 190]. Step formations include springs and waterfalls [Figs. 191, 192]. Rapids are half-way between band and step formations [Fig. 193].

Due to the change of altitude, as the water moves it washes off soft soil, carves hard rocks, carries sediments, and moves rocks in its course. The rocks, frequently scattered in the rapids, lodged at the more level places in springs, and deposited at the lower end of waterfalls, split up the water flow into ribbons [Figs. 194, 195]. Exposed rocks along the course, especially at the starting point of the fall, also cause splitting effects [Fig. 196].

Step formations tend to stress verticality, their water surfaces resembling curtains draped in soft folds [Fig. 197]. A large waterfall might have a curvilinear upper edge, anchoring several step formations grouped in close proximity [Fig. 198]. [p. 53]

Shores, Banks, and Impediments. Except in the case of an ocean or sea not edged by land at all, water is accommodated or wrapped by land, which provides the elements that shape the body of water. Generally, it is concavity on flat or convex land formations that holds the water, or directs its course.

A bay or lake is fringed with a shore, which may be composed of steep cliffs or gentle slopes. Along the shore may be a sandy beach, with pebbles and rocks, useful adornments providing desirable detail in a painting [Figs. 199, 200].

A stream or river has a bank on each side. These curve in and out, but not always in the same manner. The two banks at different intervals could be near or far from each other, with different kinds of land formations [Figs. 201, 202]. As a river makes a turn, the outer curve of the turn usually displays steeper walls, caused by the significant effects of erosion, than the inner curve, which has a flatter land formation [Fig. 203]. This effect does not appear at every turn or in every painting, however, since certain kinds of land structure might resist erosion.

Loose rocks and hard rocky formations projecting above the water surface act as impediments to the water flow. They are essential details for a waterfall, dividing the water surface [Fig. 204] and helping to articulate the step formation [Fig. 205]. [p. 55]

Surface Patterns and Reflections. Visually intrinsic to water is its surface pattern, which reveals calmness or movement and is affected by wind, adjacent land formations and impediments, light, and reflections. Moving water generally displays more articulated lace-lilke patterns than still water. Water moves in currents, with the direction and velocity of the currents sometimes quite visible [Fig. 206].

To depict currents an artist adds texture in the form of short, horizontal, diagonal, straight, or sinuous lines [Fig. 207]. The texture for ripples, effected by wind or breeze in still water, is less agitated and most noticeable near the shore or bank [ Fig. 208]. Water speeding down a narrow passage could have a lace-like pattern in a forward-pointing direction [Fig. 209].

Water as sheet formation might display waves, suggesting a rough sea caused by strong wind, in a pattern reminiscent of fish scales [Fig. 210]. Crests and foam, or whitecaps, further emphasize the turbulence [Fig. 211].

We see reflections in water as the mirroring of trees and land formations along the shore of a lake or the bank of a river, or else as the mirroring of light from the sky. Reflecting the sky, the water surface displays a sweeping area of brightness, with or without clear definition [Fig. 212]. Reflecting solid objects, the surface mirrors corresponding shapes when the water is quite calm, but produces blurred images in most cases [Fig. 213]. Depending more on a fixed viewpoint, however, reflection is rarely expressed in traditional Chinese landscape painting. [p. 56]

Progression and Diversion. Water moving as a stream or a river carves through the land surface and continues its progress. Sometimes it is fully visible and sometimes partially hidden behind trees and foliage, protrusions of rock, and land masses [Fig. 214].

The path of moving water can diverge at any point, splitting into two or more streams [Fig. 215], just as two or more separate streams can join as one [Fig. 216]. In fact, various types of water formations spreading over a large land area can join and split in an intricate manner [ Fig. 217]. When depicting the complicated progression of water, the artist must be sure to maintain its flow, so that a viewer may trace the entire course with its apparently disconnected parts. [p. 57]

Beyond land and water is the earth's atmosphere, including a number of phenomena, such as the sky, air, light, rain, and snow, that are not earthbound and lack definable shapes. Such elements enable the artist to introduce voidness, fading effects, and tonal changes in a painting, and facilitate the creation of moods related to time, season, climate, and weather. [p. 58]

Sky. Artists generally leave the sky blank in Chinese landscape painting. Sometimes they apply a simple ink tone, most often in depicting wintry scenes. The presence of sky is implied behind mountain peaks, but the exact area of sky remains vague, since the paintings rarely display a marked horizon dividing the land or water from the sky. And since the sun, the moon, the stars, or other heavenly bodies seldom appear in Chinese landscapes, the sky frequently resembles that of an overcast day, with no distinct clouds. The blank sky traditionally serves the purpose of carrying the artists' inscriptions. [p. 58]

Air. Air is invisible, but it carries moisture that may appear as haze and mist. Artists can represent haze by depicting distant hills, mountains, or other background elements in lighter and lighter tones, with faint ink and with less and less detail. Likewise, giving the lower part of a mountain scarce texture and faint ink treatment suggests the presence of mist.

Introducing mist helps to stress distantness and separateness of the elements [Fig. 218]. A mountain with mist at its foot tends to appear very high: as it is not resting on any definite ground, its receding distance opens to free interpretation [Fig. 219]. Indeed, in troducing mist to a landscape is like adding to it a veil of mystery that enhances its spirituality.

Clouds, again made of the moisture in the air, help to break up the solidity of land formations and create a sense of movement in a composition. Clouds appear in clusters, rows, strips, and layers, composed of large and small spherical and rippling forms with feathery edges [Figs. 220-223]. They rise from valleys and other concavities, stretch across the fronts of mountains, lace distant peaks, spread in the sky, and serve to shield off any part of a scene [Figs. 224-227]

Air movements have no shapes. As wind blows, it bends branches, weeds, and grass in one direction. Artists cannot depict wind directly, but can show the presence of wind by stressing its effects on the softer elements of the landscape. [p. 58]

Light. Chinese landscape painters use lightness and darkness as rhythmic modulations of ink tones and textural applications. They are not interested in a fixed light source, which imposes a sense of transience. Backlit scenes, bursts of light from above, long shadows cast across surfaces of land and water, and other dramatic light situations are only found in some contemporary Chinese painting showing Western influence.

In traditional works, elements are modeled with soft light from above, with sunken and wrinkled areas given darker tones or denser textures. The two sloping sides of a mountain may be treated differently to enhance solidity [Fig. 228]. The front of a mountain may be light, allowing trees and shrubs to be visible [Fig. 229], or it may be dark, with fringed mist [Fig. 230]. [p. 60]

Rain and Snow. A series of vertical but slightly slanting parallel streaks left as gaps in a densely textured area expresses the presence of heavy rain, the effects of which can be strengthened with subsequent ink washes. Usually heavy rain is accompanied by wind, and the streaks appear in a diagonal direction. Layers of horizontal dots in rather undefined shapes suggest light rain veiling the landscape with general haziness [Fig. 231].

Opaque white pigment soaking the hair of a brush, which is then lightly tapped to sprinkle tiny dots of white on the surface of the painted area, creates the illusion of falling snow. A snow-covered landscape is not done with white pigment, however. Here, darkened sky and water surfaces provide a tonal contrast to light and scantily painted areas, which become positive forms with white surfaces. [p. 60]

Vegetation provides more than mere adornment in a landscape, for plants and trees, as organic matter, contribute a sense of life and movement to the general scene. Furthermore, vegetation suggests conditions of a particular season, strengthening communication of feelings. Vegetation encompasses a wide range of subjects including grass, shrubs, trees, forests, and numerous kinds of ground-covering growth, from clearly definable shapes to vaguely discernible presences to textural manifestations. In special cases, vegetation serves as the dominant feature in a painting, with mountains as background elements. [p. 61]

Bare Trees. A tree consists of a trunk, with roots extending from its base, branches extending from its sides and top, and foliage encrusting the branches. An artist normally draws the trunk of a tree first, indicating its position, height, and thickness. The trunk may be twisted or slanted, and its surface may carry wrinkled lines and knots. Knots represent scars from broken branches, and their occurrence affects the shape of the trunk.

Next come the major branches. Branching out normally reduces the trunk's thickness. With further branching from the major branches, and the display of some root formation similar to the branching pattern, a bare tree is visualized [Fig. 232].

Trees should convey some feeling of rhythmic movement, free from stiffness. A single bare tree should bend gracefully, balanced with the branches [Fig. 233]. Groupings of two or more bare trees should show the trunks and branches overlapping and intersecting in different directions [Figs. 234-236]. Different tree trunks should appear behind, above, and in front of specific contour lines, to express their spatial relationships [Fig. 237].

The branching pattern, further articulated with shapes and lengths of the branches, gives each bare tree its identity. There are three basic branching patterns. The ascending pattern is constructed with most of the branches pointing in an upward direction, which is called the deer-horn method [Fig. 238]. The descending pattern shows drooping branches. If the branches are short and curly, it is referred to as the crab-claw method [Fig. 239]. When the branches are long, the tree takes the shape of a willow [Fig. 240]. The side-stretching pattern is attained with branches delineated horizontally [Fig. 241].

The three basic patterns provide guidance for the artist rather than dictating shapes. Some trees do not have branches of strong directional orientation, and all patterns can be given some diagonal bias to suggest effects of wind [Fig. 242]. Some branches wind and loop significantly, with many entanglements [Fig. 243]. Major branches grow at random [Fig. 244], or almost symmetrically [Fig. 245]. Artists can combine randomness and symmetry and juxtapose high and low trunks [Figs. 246, 247]. Branches can grow in smooth curves [Fig. 248], sharp bends [Fig. 249], or knotty twists [Fig. 250], and in short or long lengths [Figs. 251, 252].

In general, bare trees are deciduous, featured in autumn and winter scenes. Artists often draw trees with foliage as bare trees at the initial stage of the painting process, to provide the general structure and rhythm of their forms. [p. 61]

Foliage. Foliage refers to the leaves on the branches, depicted with a textural application that spreads into a vaguely distinguishable shape. Chinese artists tend to use characteristic leaf shapes as visual symbols, grouping the symbols on branches in accordance with natural growth processes. The textural application they employ falls into two broad categories: dotted formations and outlined formations. Numerous types of each exist for covering a wide variety of trees.

Dotted formations describe leaves of darker shades, which tend to be small. The simplest application involves round or oval dots [Fig. 254], or short strokes, with curved or wedged shapes, arranged vertically or horizontally [Figs. 255, 256]. The dots or short strokes may be grouped and shaped to reveal a radiating pattern, generally pointing upward [Fig. 257] or downward [Fig. 258], and repeated with slight variations.

Outlined formations describe leaves of lighter shades and of larger size. Foliage begins with a unit, created as a simple or special shape in outline, then repeated [ Fig. 259]. The unit can have a radiating pattern [Fig. 260], and the outlines facilitate the introduction of color.

Trees with an exuberant display of foliage give the feeling of warmer climates and fertile land formations [Fig. 261]. Trees with scanty foliage suggest the approach of a cold season [Fig. 262]. Of course, trees with different types of foliage can appear in the same landscape [Figs. 263-265]. Both dotted and outlined formations can be given expressionistic treatment [Figs. 266, 267], although outlined formations generally belong to paintings of a tighter style [Fig. 268].

Trees in the middle distance are smaller, but while they still maintain individually distinct shapes, their foliage is no different from that of nearby trees, except that it is less detailed [Figs. 269, 270]. Trees in the far distance lack clear identity, and their foliage can be considerably abbreviated [Fig. 271]. [p. 65]

Evergreens. Evergreens have needle-like leaves that remain on the branches all year long. Pines, spruces, and cypresses belong to this nondeciduous category. Among these, pines are of the utmost significance, symbolizing the unyielding tenacity of the virtuous. Chinese scholars. A Chinese pine of the temperate zone does not grow in a vertical cone shape, but has a long trunk with branches stretching horizontally near the upper end of the trunk [Figs. 272, 273]. The branches tend to gnarl and bend with angular gestures [Figs. 274, 275, and the trunk can writhe in an amazing shape on rocky surfaces and steep cliffs [Figs. 276, 277].

At close distance, an evergreen's needle-like leaves are expressed as units of fine strokes in a fan-shape or radiating pattern, positioned on the branches in layered clusters [Figs. 278-281]. Farther away, the fan-shape patterns of the leaves become rows of short vertical strokes [Fig. 282]. Distant wooded areas higher up in the mountains frequently feature evergreens in conical shapes, made with vertical strokes representing the trunks and layers of horizontal strokes representing the leaves [Figs. 283, 284]. [p. 67]

Moss Dots. A textural application unique to Chinese landscape painting, moss dots consist of round or irregularly shaped specks of ink [Figs. 285, 286], or of oval dots or short strokes laid horizontally, vertically, or diagonally [Figs. 287, 288]. Spreading rhythmically over land formations, edges of water, and even on tree trunks and roots, moss dots serve as accentuations, strengthen contours, enhance contrasts of tones and densities, provide a sense of general pictorial unification, and add a finishing touch. Moss dots do not represent moss formations but suggest vegetation that may be interpreted loosely. On land formations of closer distance, they might express minor plant growth. On more distant land formations, they represent trees, shrubs, or wooded areas. As distant trees are given more and more abbreviated brushwork treatment, they gradually intermix with or turn into moss dots [Fig. 289].

Blending moss dots with ts'un strokes as textural treatment for land formations provides extra richness and depth [Fig. 290]. Horizontal moss dots may be applied so abundantly that they cover and even replace the ts'un strokes and some of the contours [Fig. 291]. [p. 69]

Grass. This category of vegetation, visualized as fine and short vertical lines, perhaps slightly curled, applied along external and internal contours of land formations or on water surfaces, often in rows, includes all similar kinds of plant growth with sheath-like leaves, such as weeds, reeds, and rushes [Figs. 292, 293]. On land, grasses tend to appear on foreground terraced surfaces and along the feet of trees, sometimes hanging from protruding rocks and cliffs [Fig. 294]. On water, they fringe river banks and lake shores, suggesting the presence of marsh [Figs. 295, 296]. [p. 70]



The contents of this site, including all images and text, are for personal, educational, non-commercial use only. The contents of this site may not be reproduced in any form without proper reference to Text, Author, Publisher, and Date of Publication [and page #s when suitable].