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 Four

I N D E X - [NOTE: The visuals from the original text are not yet provided]

Tones and Colors
Assimilation and Differentiation
Reinforcements and Mutations

Staining and Moistening
Stretching and Backing

Tools and Media
Materials and Processes

T E X T - [NOTE: The visuals from the original text are not yet provided]
Implementing an idea requires the use of a brush soaked with ink and water to make marks on the surface of absorbent paper. This activity may sound simple, but the mastery of brush and ink skills actually requires many years of unceasing practice, along with intense study of established approaches. In the evolution of Chinese painting, especially since the Yüan Dynasty around the fourteenth century A.D., proficiency in brush and ink applications has been regarded as very high artistic achievement. In fact, such proficiency marks the difference between a bad painting and a good painting.

The Chinese use the term pi-mo [Fig. 422], consisting of two characters standing respectively for brush and ink, to refer to the quality and spirit of brush and ink skills.

Pi-mo appears frequently in Chinese art essays, specifically in relation to the notion of fa, discussed earlier in this text. Fa literally means method, but implies rules, regulations, means, and techniques to be followed closely. The pursuit of fa is much more than the acquisition of skills, and in some eyes fa represents the entire artistic tradition. All the individual ideas, stylistic achievements, and technical discoveries of prominent masters, passed down from generation to generation, may be summed up as fa.

In any case, fa, or method, forms the essential foundation of any Chinese artist's training. With its authoritative significance, fa provides a strong discipline, which may prove restrictive. An innovative artist must enter the core of the method, then get out of it. Establishing one's own method is a particular concern of Monk Shih-t'ao, whose treatise on painting starts with the following lines:

At the beginning, chaos prevailed, and there was no method. When chaos was gone, method was established of one line. This one line is the origin of all things and the root of all phenomena, openly employed by the gods, and also secretly used by man. Most people of the world might not know it. In fact, the method of one line is established by the self. To establish this is to have it born of no-method, and have one method to connect to all methods. This one line is drawn from the mind-heart. If the beauty and intricacy of the mountains, rivers and human figures, the intrinsic nature of the birds, animals, and vegetation, or the scale and structure of the ponds, pavilions, and terraces display no deep understanding of the Principle and no full expression of the form, the artist must have failed to grasp all the fundamentals of the one line.

Every painting begins with the one line, which is as personal and unique as an individual's handwriting. The line does not occur accidentally, but comes from an individual method, a significant part of the total artistic idea. This individual method must unite all methods as a development and departure from, rather than rejection of, the tradition. The study of ancient brush and ink techniques serves a positive purpose, providing the foundation for the artistÍs individual pursuit. [p. 119]

Brush. The principle tool for Chinese painting is the standard brush, with a handle made of plain bamboo. Its special construction, in the part of the tuft, features a bulky core made of coarse hair, which carries a considerable amount of liquid ink, gives support to the outer layer of finer hair, and provides structural strength necessary for the formation of a pointed tip. Different kinds of animal hair are used for brush manufacture, but the brushes come in two general types: the white-tuft brush made of goat or sheep hair, which is soft but quite resilient, and the brown-tuft brush made of wolf or weasel hair, which is stiff but springy. Both types are available in a wide range of shapes, lengths, and sizes.

The standard brush is for painting as well as for calligraphy and general writing. Special-purpose brushes exist for ink washes and unusual effects. A number of small soft-hair brushes linked together in a row help create extremely wide ink washes. Flat-tip or blunt-tip brushes facilitate broad coverage of an area or the spreading of ink and water on wet surfaces. [p. 120]

Control. Controlling a brush starts with holding it properly. By tradition, this means holding the brush with its bamboo handle nested between the thumb on the one side, and the forefinger and the middle finger on the other side, further supporting the handle with the fourth and fifth fingers [Fig. 423]. The grip should be tight, but there should be a hollow space between the palm and the fingers. In broad movements, neither the wrist nor any part of the hand should rest on any surface for support. This allows the maximum freedom. Considerably fine work, however, requires wrist or elbow support.

To make a mark on Paper, two common methods exist, and both are related to the application of the brush tip. For general purposes, the brushes should be perpendicular to the paper surface, with its tip making the first contact with the surface [Fig. 424]. Called the chung-feng [Fig. 425], or central-tip method, this results in spherical dots and lines suggesting round rods. For making ragged-edge marks, the p'ien-feng [Fig. 426], or inclined-tip method, achieved with the brush tilted slightly to one side [Fig. 427], results in dots or lines suggesting a wedge-shaped cross section.

Each part of the brush can be manipulated for desirable effects. The tip occupies the lower end of the brush [Fig. 428]. It extends upward to form the belly [Fig. 429], and the belly becomes the root [Fig. 430], the part of the tuft next to the handle.

If the tuft is long and slender, the tip can curl up so that the belly touches the paper without it [Fig. 431]. With its hair spreading out in one or more directions [Figs. 432, 433], a disarranged tip creates a textural application [Fig. 434]. With all hair near the handle bent to one side, the root rather than the tip or belly makes marks [Fig. 435].

A brush line consists of its beginning, its end, its body, and its edges. The beginning is marked with the tip of the brush, here showing its pointedness [Fig. 436]. If the brush first moves in the direction opposite to that of the lineÍs intended direction [Figs. 437, 438], or if the tip allows the ink to spread slightly before moving to form the line [Figs. 439, 440], the beginning of the line will be blunt. The end of a line will display pointedness or bluntness in the same way [Figs. 441-444].

Between the beginning and the end lies the body of the line. The body appears bulging when the beginning and end are small [Fig 445]. It appears thin where the beginning and end are prominent [Figs. 446, 447]. The body can be a continuous solid plane [Fig. 448] or a broken, textured surface [Fig. 449]. An inclined tip application produces uneven distribution of weight and texture on the body [Fig. 450]. A smooth brush application produces sharp edges [Fig. 451]. A slanting brush dragged with intermittent stops achieves a saw-edge effect [Figs. 452, 453].

A new brush comes with a sharp tip, which can become blunt after considerable use. It is possible to reshape the tip by trimming the tuft or by rubbing it on an abrasive surface [Fig. 454]. A worn or specially shaped brush tip could be excellent for making lines of some fuzziness or for dry-brush effects [Figs. 455, 456]. [p. 120]

Manipulation. Brush manipulation consists of several aspects, namely direction, pressure, and speed. The different aspects, while certainly interrelated, may be discussed separately to better describe them.

Direction can be seen primarily in the intrinsic shape of a line. This pertains to the progression of a line resulting in a straight, curved, or tortuous shape, and has nothing to do with its function as a contour of a representational form. A straight line can run in a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal position [Fig. 457]. A curved line can run in an arc shape or wind in opposite directions [Fig. 458]. A tortuous line suggests some rhythmic movement, with smooth or abrupt bends [Fig. 459]. These shapes appear simple for brush manipulation, but in Chinese painting, most lines tend to show gentle rhythmic sinuations [Fig. 460] and make prominent angular bends [Fig. 461]. Accomplishing lines with such qualities and an underlying bone strength often poses the greatest challenge to the artist in effecting his brushwork, for sinuousness and angularity have to be natural and cannot be overexpressed.

Direction can also be seen in terms of the relationship of the brush handle to the progress of the brush. An artist normally moves a brush from an upper position to a lower position on the paper surface to make a vertical line, and from a left position to a right position to make a horizontal line. There is probably no set rule for making diagonal lines. In effecting the movement, the artist can hold the brush perpendicularly as in the central-tip method, obliquely as in the inclined-tip method, or in other ways. The brush handle can point in the direction of the line, so that during the brush movement all the hair is quite straight and touches the surface smoothly [Fig. 462]. As an alternative, the brush handle can point in the direction opposite to that of the line, causing the hair of the tip to curl up significantly; the brush must be forced to form the line against considerable friction [Fig. 463]. In both instances, the tip traces the middle of the line without delineating the edges.

The artist can tilt the brush handle in an unconventional way, so that it lies almost flat on the paper surface, but this requires gripping the brush handle from above, with the thumb on one side and the four fingers on the other. If the brush hair is long, moving the brush in the inclined-tip method produces broad planes, and the planes may exhibit a thin layer of rough texture [Fig. 464]. The artist can change the direction of the brush handle as the brush is moved to allow different parts of the tuft to touch the paper at different times in the sequence [Fig. 465].

Another way of affecting direction is to give the brush a twisted motion. As fingers twist the brush handle and the brush is dragged, the action gathers disarranged hair into a pointed tip [Fig. 466]. A line made in this way could show a textural passage transformed gradually into a thin solid line [Fig. 467].

Pressure, the next aspect of brush manipulation is related to the weight applied as the brush tip touches the paper surface. Digging down the brush increases the pressure, and lifting up the brush decreases it. Heavy pressure caused the brush to perform somewhat like a piercing, chiseling, or carving tool. The exertion of pressure bends or spreads the hair of the tip, and gives more friction to the brush movement [Fig. 468]. Lightness and heaviness can be introduced at different parts of the line [Fig. 469].

The third aspect, speed, is the fastness and slowness of the brush movement. A brush gliding fast usually makes a thinner line than a brush dragged slowly, for it gives the ink less time to spread in the process [Figs. 470, 471]. With changes in direction and in pressure application, fastness and slowness have different effects on brushwork. [p. 124]

Quality. Brushwork, an integral part of an artist's style, can lean toward elegant refinement [Fig. 472], unrestrained casualness [Fig. 473], varied expressiveness [ Figs. 474, 475], calligraphic boldness [Fig. 476], explicit angularity [Fig. 478], or crystalline clarity [Fig. 479]. The distinctive and desirable qualities of brushwork are not easy to describe. Traditionally some general preferences prevail: The central-tip method is better for establishing bone-strength. Slow motion with friction provides more sustaining interest than facile fast motion. Apparent crudeness and clumsiness sometimes communicate more than dexterity. Moreover, the brush should be guided naturally by the self of the artist, whose emotions, personality, sensitivity, ingenuity, and ability to effect changes appropriately moments lead to the achievement of what is finally appreciated as quality.

The following passage by Ch'ing Dynasty art essayist Shen Tsung-ch'ien addresses this notion of quality:

In using the brush, one must seek resiliency of strength in place of yielding softness, spirited movement in place of lumpish tardiness, firm steadiness instead of clever slickness, and scholarly grace in place of uncouth vulgarity. The brush touching the paper could be light or heavy, fast or slow, upright or slanting, sinuous or straight. If it is too light, it becomes weak. If it is too heavy, it tends towards clumsiness. If it is too slow, it becomes sluggish. If it is too slanting, it displays thinness. If it is always upright, it leads to stiffness. If it sinuates too much, it makes many saw-tooth edges. If it stresses straightness, it looks as if it is guided with a ruler. [p. 126]

A brush makes visible marks on paper when it is soaked with ink, the principal medium for Chinese painting. Traditional Chinese ink comes in the form of a solid stick, usually made of soot or carbon obtained by burning dry pine or vegetable oil. The stick is ground with water on an inkstone to produce a black liquid for painting, and the liquid can be further diluted with water to give a range of grays. Today ink is also available in liquid form, but most artist prefer grinding ink sticks to prepare fresh liquid ink, which is superior in quality to bottled varieties.

Art historians trace monochromatic ink painting back to about the eighth century A.D., when T'ang Dynasty poet/painter Wang Wei first started to paint landscapes with only a range of ink tones. Before this, artists used ink primarily for making outlines, defining shapes for subsequent application of colors. With the rise of landscape painting, artists concentrated on ink almost to the point of dispensing with all colored pigments. Their emphasis on ink distinguishes Chinese painters as searching for spirituality in a form of personal elevation, with little concern for sensual experience.

Ink can be applied in four different ways: as marks, as washes, as textures, and as scrubbings. Marks consist of dots or lines, clearly revealing the effects of the brush [Fig. 480]. Washes spread over a wide area, barely showing the brush movement [Fig. 481]. Textures, made up of accumulated strokes, describe surface characteristics of planes or volumes [Fig. 482]. Scrubbings, done by rubbing the brush to deposit a faint coat of dry ink, stress the texture of the paper [ Fig. 483]. [p. 128]

Tones and Colors. Ink is black when freshly prepared to full density, that is, ground intensely with a small amount of water. The ink may also prove gummy, for the glue in the ink stick contributes to the liquid. An additional bit of water may reduce the gumminess, without noticeably changing the blackness. Adding more and more water produces an array of different shades of gray. These tones allow artists to work with varying degrees of lightness and darkness. Chinese artists tend to see ink in terms of six "colors"; black, clear, dry, wet, dark, and light.

Black refers to densely ground ink, with its degree of gumminess [Fig. 484]. Clear ink, the other extreme, is close to plain water and exhibits a hardly noticeable shade of gray [Fig. 4485]. Dry ink can be light or dark, for the term refers to the scanty quantity of ink held in the brush [Fig. 486]. An artist can load a brush with ink of some desirable shade, then squeeze it so that very little ink remains in the tuft. Application must be slow to allow for depositing of dry ink, and in the process the hair of the tip tends to come apart. Wet indicates a brush fully loaded with ink, which can be in any shade of gray [Fig. 487]. This makes a heavy mark, for the ink runs and spreads easily. Dark ink derives from slightly diluted black ink [Fig. 488]. Light ink results from considerable dilution of ink with water [Fig. 489]. With exploration, an artist can form numerous intermediate steps between the extremities of these colors.

A student of Ch'ing Dynasty painter Pu Yen-t'u of the eighteenth c. A.D. recorded his views on the use of ink colors:

I regard dry, light, and clear as the dominant colors of the ink, and wet, dark, and black the subordinate colors . . . . As the overall composition is decided, light ink is first used to establish the contours. After this, dry ink, light ink, and clear ink are used for the textures. Application of textures could be complex, with layers upon layers, and scrubbings upon scrubbings. Volume of the rocks is better expressed with rich textures which also help to induce vital breath. As the various parts are sufficiently treated with light inks, the painting begins to take shape, but that is only a dreamlike misty presence without real definition. Now wet ink, dark ink, and black ink are used. The frontal part of the mountain top can be treated with black ink to show its face, and wet and dark inks are laid in the sunken wrinkles of the slopes. In this way, what is yin and what is yang, which faces forward and which faces backward, are fully distinguished. It is possible to have dark to the left and light to the right, brightness to one side and shadiness to the other, mass assuming more solidity, and void showing more emptiness. Then the painting can be hung up on the wall for viewing, and the mountains and rivers are all in sight.

[p. 129]

Assimilation and Differentiation. At any stage of the painting process, an artist can introduce an ink wash to make broad light/dark patterns in the composition. In general, ink washes consist of tones that conform more or less to the tones of the existing ink marks, but the tones can also be lighter or darker than the ink marks. As the wash is still wet, the artist can darken any particular spot or portion in a wet-in-wet process. An ink wash functions through a process of assimilation, for it fills up all the gaps between ink marks, unites the marks, and provides smooth transitions in tonal change. Even the white of the paper forms part of the ink wash, with the wash becoming lighter and lighter as it moves into the blank area of the painting.

Assimilation occurs within the area treated with an ink wash. When adjacent areas of a painting are given contrasting ink washes, this leads to differentiation, a juxtaposition of light and dark tones that results in clearly distinct shapes. Adjacent areas of ink wash, applied together, will have only a blurred border; a sharp differentiation requires separate washes on relatively dry paper. The artist may differentiate only part of a shape, rather than the entire shape. Light may border dark along one part of its edge, and dark border light along another, as tones change within each area [Figs. 490-492]. In any case, assimilation and differentiation, with blurring and sharpening of edges, are especially effective in the creation of pictorial dramas with mist, clouds, and rain dominating the scenes [Figs. 493-498]. [p. 130]

Reinforcements and Mutations. An ink wash can strengthen shapes or obscure them, and ink marks applied before the wash frequently soften with subsequent wash treatment. At this stage, the artist must reinforce some areas by adding more ink marks, in similar or slightly darker ink tones, to reestablish the definition of the shapes. The external and internal contours can be redrawn, but not in a stiff retracing of lines applied earlier. Wrinkles and folds on the land formations can be given another layer of textural strokes and perhaps also more moss dots. Scrubbings can integrate the newly applied ink marks and textures while enhancing richness and depth.

Ink marks or washes should show mutations with a range of tones in orchestration: One flat tone in the entire painting registers as spiritually dead. Mutations can appear in the ink wash, in individual ink marks, and in the layers of ink marks. Individual ink marks can achieve mutation through either the splattering-ink or the breaking-ink technique. With layers of ink marks, the artist employs the stacking-ink technique.

The splattering-ink technique refers to the use of a brush loaded generously with wet ink, which almost drips down the paper surface. When brought to the paper to form bold marks, the brush splashes and deposits ink freely. The action can be carried on until most of the ink in the brush is used up, with wet and dry effects intermixed in the execution [Fig. 499]. It is possible and perhaps desirable for the artist to dip the brush into water or lighter ink, then into black or dark ink. The resultant mark displays variegated ink tones [Figs. 500, 501].

The breaking-ink technique refers to the addition of a darker mark to the body or edge of an existing lighter mark, or the addition of a lighter mark along the edge of an existing darker mark [Figs 502, 503]. Lines of different inks can meet or intersect one another with darker tones breaking into lighter tones [ Fig. 504].

The stacking-ink technique refers to the application of subsequent layers of ink marks or textures to a single area [Figs. 505, 506]. Wet inks must dry after each application, but if each application is done with dry inks over a wide area, stacking can continue without stopping until the desired effect is attained. [p. 132]




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