Category Archives: Ramblings

Dancers

Found a beautiful book, The Art of Movement by Ken Brewer and Deborah Ory. It’s a collection of dance photography. It’s a great book to study figures and motions. I did some sketches and drawings from it:

Dancers, watercolor on paper, May 2020
Couple Dancers, watercolor on paper, May 2020
Infinity, charcoal on paper, 18 x 24 in, May 2020

The last one is a strange pose. It has an enclosed and squarish quality and a lot of symmetry. The lighting is mainly top-down, making it more grounded and static. It’s not a composition that I would normally choose to work on. On the other hand, there’s a nice contrast between the infinity loop formed by the arm, and zig-zag pattern formed by heads, torso and the legs in the middle. There’s tension and connection between the two dancers at the same time and that’s what I was aiming for when starting the piece. However, as I worked on, and as always, I was distracted by the details, and lost my focus. I think the zigzagging is there, but the details of the hands cut in the flow of the loop. I also think the value contrast is not enough and shapeless. I think this is mainly because I am still copying what I see instead of using it as a reference to create. I hope when I have a better grasp of human figure, I could look beyond the photo and draw my interpretation.

Copying Masters (11) – Yoshitoshi

Japanese woodblock printing (ukiyo-e) has a profound influence in western art since 19th century. “Japonism” has a visible presence in the art of many big names, such as Van Gogh, Degas, Gauguin etc.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 月岡芳年 (1839 -1892; also named as Taiso Yoshitoshi 大蘇芳年) was generally regarded as the last great master of the this art tradition. He was a very bold, imaginative and prolific artist. Some of the images he created are regarded as gruesome and disturbing. His most famous series are One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (1885–1892), and New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts (1889–1892).

In “Kiyomori sees hundreds of skulls at Fukuhara,” from the series New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts, Yoshitoshi portrayed the famous Japanese general (or soldier-dictator) Taira Kiyomori (平清盛, 1118 – 1181), who created the the first samurai-dominated government. The main attraction for me is the decisive and effective line work, and the presence of the character:

The original:

My copy:

After Yoshitoshi, watercolor and ink on paper, 11 x 15 in, 2020

A few notes:

  • This is not an exact copy, partially because the paper I used was a failed texture experiment. I have to work with un-intended marks here and there.
  • Copying line work is a tricky business: you want to be careful because the ink is permanent; but if you are too careful you’ll lose the force and the gesture of the line.
  • Sometimes having random textures or marks on paper is not necessarily a bad thing. You are forced to be creative since you have to work around or work against it.
  • My general has funny little hands.

Here’s my attempt of the ukiyo-e style:

Where to, watercolor and ink on paper, 11 x 15 in, 2019

This earlier post is in that line too:

Full moon, watercolor on paper, 11 x 14, 2019

By the way, the art of ukiyo-e fell out of fashion in Japan in the late 19th century but saw a come back since the 70s in Asia. Some young artists incorporated the line works and the fanciful contents into Chinese fine brush painting or watercolor painting.

Copying Masters (10) – Bernini

I am quite into drawing and painting humans recently, both portrait and figure. I find it a great way to practice hand eye coordination, and overall drawing and painting skills. While human faces and bodies are complicated, they are more organized than landscape. Learn the anatomy and you’ll have a sure way to approach them. They are also less forgiving than many other subjects – when you do it wrong, it’s quite obvious.

As always, copying masters is an effective way of learning. This time I chose an early drawing by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680), the father of Baroque sculpture. The drawing, Seated Male Nude, was collected by Princeton Art Museum. I am attracted to this drawing by its succinct use of marks, especially the highlights, so economic and so effective. I tried to draw on tinted paper before, and often ended up drawing a figure on top of the paper, instead of letting the color of the paper show through.

I figured if I wanted to let the paper work, I’d better keep it clean. So instead of jumping on it, I did some practice before hand. For example:

After Bernini, ink on newsprint
After Bernini, pencil on paper

Finally, the copy:

After Bernini, pastel pencil on paper, May 2020

A few notes:

  • I am glad I did those hatchings last week. My lines are still not neat and organized as the master’s (of course), but the hatching practice do help.
  • The preliminary studies paid off (I did more than those shown above). I did a very light-handed drawing first and managed not to disturb the paper too much (less erasing). The final lines are sharper and cleaner this way.
  • I only recently started to pay attention to this issue. In both drawing and watercolor painting, if the paper is too disturbed, it affects the final result. I know some watercolor artist draw on a different piece of paper and then transfer the image to the watercolor paper (carbon paper, light box, projector etc.)
  • I had a lot of fun drawing the effect of an old paper. LOL.

Hatching, Cross Hatching

I love artworks with beautiful lines or expressive brush strokes. Mark making is an art in itself. One good way to practice line quality is to use a non erasable tool. I used a variety of pens before, dipping pen, micron pen, even ballpoint pen. This week I dug out a cheap fountain pen (the type that Chinese kids used in school to learn writing) and some Faber-Castell Pitt pen, and decided to practice hatching and cross hatching.

There are at least two ways to do hatching (cross or not), one is to follow the form to the object (with the direction of the lines), the other is to use one direction only, and let the value changes indicate the form. My plan was to use the latter approach and focus on value studies, but what I found out is that it’s very counterintuitive not to chase the form.

Portrait of Diana, Faber-Castell pitt pen, 9 x 12 in, April 2020
Serge, Faber-Castell pitt pen, 9 x 12 in, May 2020
Self-portrait, fountain pen, 9 x 12 in, May 2020

Faber-Castell is permanent, while fountain pen ink is somewhat water-soluble. I used a little bit water to wash over part of the drawing and reapplied lines here and there.

I find the sound of a pen scratching over paper very therapeutic, and hatching a great way to exercise control and study value.

Color Studies (4) – Triadic Colors

I changed the title of the previous post for better record keeping. I am still staying home, still doing art.

This week I tried triads – 3 colors evenly spaced around the color wheel. A word on color wheel: I use a commercial one from The Color Wheel Company. Many artist make their own, especially if you work in watercolor, because different brands of colors do differ slightly. It makes sense to lay out your frequently used colors in a circle, add shade and tint, or even make a value chart for each of it. You can also make a list of the complementary, analogous and triadic color schemes. I think this kind of work may help you to understand your color better, and I always feel like I should do it, but … What can I say? I am lazy and unorganized.

Back to triads. They are somewhere between analogous and complementaries. Much more vibrant than the former, and less contrasting than the latter. More importantly, the color spectrum yielded is much richer – if you mix them properly, they can give you almost everything.

That caused a problem for me. As you can see from my first try, I used red, blue and yellow, and I mixed them, got everything, and confused myself. What’s the difference between using a triad and using everything then?

Portrait of a Young Woman, watercolor on paper, 7.5 x 10 in, April 2020

So I tried to separate the colors in later attempts:

Portrait of a Young Woman, watercolor on paper, 7.5 x 10 in, April, 2020
Portrait of a Young Man, watercolor on paper, 7.5 x 10 in, April, 2020

Of course later after a few minutes of googling, I found out that when using a triad in a design, you usually choose a dominant color and that’s how to differentiate it from using everything.

So far I’ve tried some of the most commonly used color schemes. These are things I learned from doing these studies:

  • Limiting palette helps me to explore the potential of each color more extensively.
  • It also forces me to pay more attention to value.
  • Colors are very distracting, so it’s good to have a strategic approach. Do I want a harmonious piece or a contrasting one? Do I want the solemnness or the richness? Etc.
  • Restrictions spur creativity.

There are more color combos one could explore: tetrad – four colors consisted of two sets of complementary; split complementary – choose one color, and add the two on each side of the complementary (a narrower triad) etc. Maybe I’ll come back to these in future. Maybe.

Color Studies (3) – Analogous Colors

In order to push myself to work more, I participated a “100 Day Art Challenge” by New Masters Academy, of which I became a member last year upon a Black Friday sale. I committed myself to figure or portrait drawings or paintings for 100 days. We’ll see how it turns out.

Since it’s not a small commitment (for me at least), I think it would be a good idea to shoot a couple of more birds in the meantime, such as incorporating some color studies into the challenge.

This week I did a couple of small paintings using analogous colors. Analogous colors are a group of 3 to 5 colors next to each other on a color wheel. From a design point of view, complimentary colors are for contrast, and analogous ones are for harmony.

I tried to limit my choices to 3. With tint and shade of each color and various intensity, there should be enough to work with. In theory.

For the first painting, I planned to use red-orange, orange, and yellow-orange. In practice, the darkest I could get is a deep shade of red-orange. As it seemed not dark enough, I kept adding black to it, and in some places, I just used black directly. The black also contributed to the greenish color in the background. Meanwhile, since I mixed my yellow-orange with yellow and orange, some of that yellow also got in. Looking back, I blamed my disastrous control of color on a lack of design. The reference I chose has strong contrast, and darker colored clothing. If I want to use colors in a limited way, I need to go beyond a literal reading of the reference, and have a better strategy for value:

Portrait of a Young Woman, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12in, April 2020

For the second painting, I chose yellow-green, green, and blue-green. I think I still got the value wrong in some places, but at least I stayed within my color choices:

Female Figure, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12 in, April 2020

The last one I used blue, blue-violet, and violet. I started this painting with Tombow water-soluble markers. Tombow has a hard and a brush tip, allowing more diverse lines. However, they are not as water-soluble as Crayola. There are lines I couldn’t disappear with water, and a big part of the painting process was to resolve the problems caused by those lines.

Portrait of a Woman, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12 in, April 2020

In the end, I am very glad I did this experiment. Even with the painting I cheated, I can still see how analogous colors help bringing things together. It’s not that each painting has to follow a color formula, but these are tools to help us to achieve harmony. Because of that unifying power, using analogous colors is also a great way to create a mood in paintings.

Stay Home Doing Art

Based on my very limited survey, this is how people around me spend their time nowadays: cooking; shopping online for groceries; cleaning and reorganizing their homes; zoom meetings. I have my fair share of cooking and shopping everyday, and decided to do some house keeping for a change. And these are the thing I dug out:

Sorry for the weird shadows in the pictures. Obviously the person who took the photos for me also wanted to sign the paintings with his shadows. To some extend, this is a Chinese tradition among art collectors. In some old Chinese pieces, if you see many seals filling in the empty spaces, many of them are not belong to the artist, but the collectors (a way to say “this is mine!”).

Most of the paintings above are done by copying old masters. This is the way of learning traditional Chinese painting through time. In some of these pieces, I combined elements from different paintings and I remember the teacher was quite surprised by that “Oh, you started creating already!” Composing your own piece usually follows years after years of copying, and it’s not a common thing for beginners. Since Chinese paintings are usually signed and dated with Chinese calligraphy, that’s another thing you are supposed to practice for years by copying masters.

Staying home is a good time to copy and study old masters. This is probably the most efficient way of improving skills, but if you only do that for longer period of time, the side effect might be daunting your creativity. Strike a balance.

I know the title “Stay Home Doing Art” is a bit misleading this time. It is actually stay home digging out art. Hope next time I could post “doing art” for real.