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 - (cont.)

Marks exist on a surface. For Chinese painting, the material providing that surface is paper or silk, although paper has been in wider use since the YÄan Dynasty, around the thirteenth c. A.D. The Chinese make paper from various plant materials, such as bamboo, rattan, cotton, straw, and mulberry-bark. The paper most commonly used for painting and calligraphy comes from the special kind of mulberry-bark. It bears the name Hsüan-chih [Fig. 507], or Hsuan paper, meaning paper from the town of Hsüan of Anhui Province, but it is also made in other places. Some artists use a coarser paper, bearing the name p'i-chih [Fig. 508], or bark paper, which is a crude version of HsÄan paper. Paper is no longer made of hemp in China, but hemp paper, or ma-chih [Fig. 509], still exists in Japan and Korea. This surface is particularly suitable for successive ink washes because of its strong fibrous structure.

Paper comes in different sizes and thicknesses, and varying degrees of smoothness. Some kinds of paper contain a basket-weave pattern that can become visible and form part of the texture with dry ink application [Fig. 510]. Generally, paper for painting is unsized, for absorbency makes most of the brush and ink techniques possible. Sized paper, coated with a solution containing dissolved alum crystals and glue, is available, but different makes of paper have different levels of absorbency. For instance, hemp is less absorbent than bark paper, and bark paper is less absorbent than Hsüan paper. Thus, hemp paper proves most suitable for finer brushwork [Fig. 511], bark paper for dry-brush effects [Fig. 512], and Hsüan paper for freer and bolder expression [Fig. 513].

Artists can work in any style on any type of paper, but they tend to choose particular kinds of paper that match particular styles. Each artist makes his own technical discoveries, which become an integral part of his brushwork. It takes time for an artist to familiarize himself with paper qualities. A first-time user of Chinese or Oriental paper could be intimidated by wet ink marks that run and expand, marks that merge indistinguishably into other marks, mistakes that cannot be easily covered up, and especially by the flimsiness of the paper, which can be torn with slight carelessness. [p. 133]

Staining and Moistening. Absorbent paper allows liquid to seep through its surface quickly and penetrate into its fiber structure. Clean water moistens the paper without leaving a visible mark as it dries, but wet ink makes a permanent stain with considerable penetration into the fibers. Dense, gummy ink is not absorbed as readily as diluted ink. Dry ink tends to smear only the raised fiber ends. Wet ink frequently spreads during the absorption process and makes a larger shape than intended, and it can seep through to the other side of the paper. Spreading ink adds a fringed edge to the shape made with the brush [Figs. 514, 515].

Different paper absorbs ink at different rates with different effects. A shape made with a drop of ink on one paper surface does not look the same as shapes made in the same way on other paper surfaces. Wet shapes overlapping produce dissimilar results. On Hsüan paper, a wet shape of light ink remains clearly visible, retaining distinct edges, when overlapped with darker ink [Figs. 516, 517].

With a wide flat brush made of soft hair, or with a spray bottle, an artist can moisten part of the paper with clean water. An even spray across the surface will moisten the entire sheet of paper. Moistening enables the artist to use a wet-in-wet technique, which blends newly laid brush marks with previously laid marks and results in smooth transitions. This is normally done after the introduction of an ink wash, and when the artist does not want to add further brush marks to the painting [Fig. 518]. In this wet-in-wet process, however, the artist can apply dark strokes as blurred shapes or textures [Fig. 519].

The trickiness of the process is that a paper surface soaked with water can be extremely vulnerable. The wet paper also turns translucent and expands unevenly, forming ridges and wrinkles that can show up as undesirable dark lines with further ink applications. Some artists use a piece of blanket, felt, or flannel, in white or some light color, underneath the paper, to keep the paper from sticking to the surface of the solid support when moistened. The ends of the woolen fiber hold the wet paper so that it can be flattened out if necessary. The woolen material resists seepage of water and ink and does not stain easily. [pp. 134-135]

Stretching and Backing. A piece of white plastic laminate glued to plywood provides a support on which the paper can be laid and moistened without the presence of a woolen blanket. The plastic laminate chosen for this purpose should have a grainy texture, containing innumerable minute reservoirs for holding water and ink as they are applied.

After moistening the paper, the artist can smooth out its ridges and wrinkles from the center of the paper to the edges in subsequent movements [Fig. 520]. Lifting the corners carefully to remove air bubbles trapped during the process, the artist fully stretches and flattens the paper. This makes the paper ready for wet-in-wet application. And it allows the artist to see very clearly what brush marks are already on the paper and to what degree his vision is realized.

Water makes the paper adhere to the support, which can be positioned levelly on a table or leaned against a wall. In the wet-in-wet painting process, some parts of the paper may dry up and require further moistening. The glue content of the ink also helps the paper adhere to the support, but if a lot of ink is used in the wet application, the paper may not come off readily and may have to be peeled with care when completely dry.

Before painting, the artist can moisten the paper and stretch it smoothly, anchoring its edges to the plastic laminate support with gummed tape made of brown paper and coated with water-soluble gum on one side [ Fig. 521]. When the paper dries, it displays a taut, flat surface, ready for any kind of ink application. This surface may still show wrinkles upon moistening, but the wrinkles should not be too significant.

Thin paper can be backed with another piece of paper. Backing actually represents part of the mounting process, but it can be integrated into the painting process if desired. To do this, the artist first positions the paper on the support, moistened and stretched smoothly as described earlier, with the painting surface down. Next, he applies a weak solution of acid-free wheat paste evenly with a wide flat brush. Another piece of paper, unmoistened, of the same or a different kind, about four inches wider and longer than the paper used for painting, should be rolled up loosely, with only the end section of the roll touching the moistened paper. The second sheet should be unrolled gradually as it adheres to the moistened paper and flattened with sweeping parallel strokes from a dry, clean, wide, flat brush. In the adhesion, all wrinkles and air bubbles should be removed. The backing paper should cover the paper for painting entirely, with about two inches sticking out along each edge [Fig. 522].

After this, the artist applies a half-inch wide strip of stronger paste along the edges of the side of the backing paper facing up. He subsequently lifts and transfers the paper layers to a vertical board, with the paper for painting facing out, held in position by the paste on the edges of the backing paper, with additional gummed tapes if necessary. Allowed to dry, the layers can be removed from the board and trimmed.

Paper becomes less absorbent when it is backed. A strong paste reduces absorbency more than a weak paste. Artists do not usually start painting on backed paper, which is reduced in absorbency, but do backing in the later stages when full absorbency is not required. They most frequently back paintings near completion. With all ink marks and wash tones seen clearly, the artist has the opportunity to make a final judgment and add finishing touches.

Both stretching and backing present some difficulty for the inexperienced. Before attempting to work with large pieces of paper, neophytes should try out thicker paper and smaller sizes to gain some basic control. [p. 136]

Originality distinguishes one particular artist from his peers. This results from innovation, which has to do with idea as well as method. Idea is realized through method, and in this lifelong pursuit an artist ultimately has to establish his own method. Method can mean developing acquired techniques into new possibilities, but it also relates to experimental techniques contributing to an artist's unmistakable style. Most artists at some point try to do things in an unorthodox manner, and sometimes a successful experiment leads to a stylistic breakthrough, marking a turning point in their careers.¤

Individual experimentation can be considered in terms of alternative tools, alternative media, alternative materials, and alternative processes. The possible directions described here may be completely outside the Chinese painting tradition, for at this point the focus is not on succession but on extension of the tradition. [p. 137]

Tools and Media. Different tools make different marks. Every tool has its limitations, and no one tool can replace all tools. If an artist wants a particular effect beyond what one tool can accomplish, he must find another tool to do the job. An artist may choose a tool for an intended purpose, but in an experimental attempt anything counts as a tool, and existing tools can be modified to create unusual marks.

The Chinese brush serves as a tool for painting, calligraphy, and general writing. It is unique in that it can make a variety of different marks. Other types of brushes include those made of sable, bristle, and nylon, designed and manufactured for watercolor, oil, and acrylic painting. Painting need not be done with brushes, however. As special tools for painting, artists use palette knives of different shapes and sizes, and pens with different nibs for different styles of drawing. But anything that can be dipped into a liquid medium and used to make a mark can replace the Chinese brush in the entire painting process or part of the process.

A piece of wood or bamboo stick shaped in some way will make lines. Bundled up dry straws, reed leaves, or any soft fiber materials make an unusual brush. A piece of crumpled paper proves effective for applying ink marks [Fig. 523]. A round wooden rod carved with some pattern coated with ink, and rolled on the painting surface produces textures [ Fig. 524]. Further treatment will meaningfully develop such textural applications [Figs. 525, 526].

Ink and water, the primary media, work well on absorbent paper, giving a wide range of dry/wet effects and tonal variations. Along with ink and water, Chinese artists use pigments in the form of dry flakes dissolved in water and sometimes ground in a ceramic bowl with glue. They most often use transparent colors similar to Western watercolors such as burnt sienna, indigo, gamboge yellow, and vermilion. The opaque colors, apart from white, several mineral pigments somewhat like emerald green and cobalt blue, come in different tints and intensities.

While watercolors and gouaches provide convenient substitutes for the Chinese pigments, acrylic colors handled properly are particularly useful for dry-brush applications and for making opaque marks on dark inks. Acrylic white, mixed with a tiny amount of brown and yellow, approximates the color of the blank paper. Introduced in a fully darkened area of the painting, it suggests the presence of gaps or emptiness [Fig. 527]. Clear acrylic medium mixed with ink makes marks less apt to spread on the absorbent paper surface. Full-strength acrylic medium or gel tend to seal the pores of the paper fiber, making a useful resist [Fig. 528].

Many other media prove adaptable. Graphite and carbon pencils combine with ink [Fig. 529], but may need a light coat of an acrylic medium to make their marks water-resistant. Oil pastels, crayons, or grease pencils are useful for delineation and for strengthening textural effects on areas already covered with ink [Fig. 530]. An artist can go as far as introducing oil stains, wax deposits, and printmaking inks if they give the right results. [p. 137]

Materials and Processes. Paper, having replaced silk as the main material for Chinese painting, can also be replaced with something new. Even if an artist wants to create a painting relating back to the Chinese landscape tradition, he should not be restricted by the common opinion that a Chinese painting must be on paper. The desire to create should prescribe the materials.

Alternative materials include any type of fabric, including canvas, that can absorb ink marks. Furthermore, any flat surface of any material, hard or soft, might work. Artists can easily make their own paper with prepared pulp obtainable from a supplier, and this may be the answer to particular needs.

Along with substituting materials, artists can take fresh approaches to the painting process. They can make marks on one surface and transfer them to the painting surface while the ink or color is still wet [Figs. 531, 532]. They can lay thin paper on any rough surface and scrub with a dry brush to develop textural passages or even specific shapes [Figs. 533, 534]. For the scrubbing application they can crumple the paper, to reveal the wrinkles then smooth it out with moistening, stretching, or backing [Fig. 535].

They can apply marks to the back of the paper [Fig. 536], or allow wet ink to seep through from another piece of paper lying atop the painting surface [Fig. 537]. They can splash small dots of ink on the painting surface, covering areas with paper, cardboard, or objects to form negative images [Fig. 538], or splash through stencils to create positive images [ Fig. 539].

Burning, cutting, or tearing produces holes in the paper [Fig. 540], and a backing of the same kind of paper will seal the holes. Joining loose portions, and pasting separate elements on the painting, make the painting look more like a collage [Fig. 541]. Other pieces of paper or any flat foreign object sandwiched between the painting paper and the backing paper creates a relief effect. Marbling stamping, screenprinting, airbrush work, machine stitching, and needlework can all become elements in the painting process. Trimmed in any shape, a painting can have raised seams, actual folds or creases, irregular edges, and even open holes.

Use of these effects depends on what the artist is after. Such experimentation normally leads to some kind of abstraction, but the artist can introduce representational brushwork with different inks at any stage in the creative process. Realization of the artist's inner landscape vision remains the aim of painting, no matter how experimental. [pp. 140-141]



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