Tag Archives: #zhisuart

My First 3D Art – The Story of Yang Guifei

Yang Guifei 杨贵妃 (719-756), Imperial Consort Yang, is one of the four best known beauties in ancient China. She married Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 (685-762) of Tang Dynasty in essence, granted the highest rank among the Emperor’s harem, but was not his official wife (I believe he didn’t have one at the time.) Her family rose to power because of the Emperor’s favoritism, but also caused a lot of tension in the court. During a rebellion that forced the Emperor to escape the capital, the imperial guards blamed Yang Guifei for distracting the Emperor from his royal duty and forced him to kill her. Her short but eventful life was commemorated in poetry, paintings, dramas, and novels throughout Chinese history till today. The legend even goes beyond China. Some Japanese believe she didn’t die but escape to Japan.

In the outskirt of Xi’an, a city in central China, and once the ancient capital of Tang Dynasty, there’s a tourist site called Huaqing Palace. It’s said to be the royal resort of Emperor Xuazong and Yang Guifei. I visited the site two years ago, and was fascinated by the story and the modern obsession of it in China. I always wanted to make an artwork about it, but find it very hard to condense a rich narrative. Eventually, I did it with 5 paintings – 5 sides of a box.

The story begins with a peony. In Chinese culture, peony not only implies beauty, but it’s beauty in richness and glory. It’s the national flower of China today. The blooming flower is Yang in her innocent years. The background design is a twist of the Taoist symbol. Legend has it she spent some years practicing Taoism in a temple before entering the palace, a fashionable thing to do among upperclass women at the time.

The story continue on to the Huaqing Palace panel, where she enjoyed the Emperor’s love. Yellow is an imperial color in Chinese culture, and dragon is a sign of the emperors. The figure on the left is after an modern statue of Yang in Huaqing Palace. Among the four ancient Chinese beauties, Yang was regarded as the plump one (that also reflects the aesthetics of the Tang Dynasty). However, her modern statue is not only slim, but also western – makes you wonder about the presentation, representation, and the interpretation of history. The ribbons were often used in traditional dance and Yang was an excellent dancer according to legend. Huaqing Palace is also a site for hot spring, and you can still see the pools where Yang and the Emperor enjoy themselves today.

The next panel is a part of the map of the capital of Tang Dynasty, with the yellow part represents the royal palace. The hairdos and hats were an indication of the social position back then. As illustrious as the imperial couple, they were both just chess pieces on a political power grid. This is especially true for a woman like Yang. However she’s favored by the Emperor, she’s never the only woman around him.

The final part of her life story features a broken jade bracelet. Yang Guifei’s maiden name Yuhuan, in Chinese means jade bracelet. In Chinese culture, broken jade is also a symbol of the death of someone beautiful or virtuous. The battle horses and banners referenced ancient paintings about Tang battle scenes.

The top of the box is a collage of how Yang’s life story was remembered throughout history. The calligraphy is part of a long poem Chang hen ge 长恨歌, “Song of Everlasting Sorrow,” written by Tang poet Bai Juyi 白居易 (772-846). The poem is a retell of the love story of Yang and the Emperor. The painting next to it is done by a Japanese woman artist Uemura Shoen in 1922. There are still TV dramas produced present days in China. The cell phone is both our means to access history nowadays, and a tool to fulfill our desire to share some glory of a celebrity. I change the Apple symbol to Lichee fruits – a favorite of Yang Guifei. Legend has it the Emperor ordered the battle horses to transport the fresh fruit (native to southern China) to the capital (central China) for her in three days!

The most difficult part of the project is to balance the narrative and the art. I have a story to tell, but I also hope viewers could find the work interesting to look at even though they don’t know anything about the story. I want the symbols and the designs I use serve both as literary and artistic devices. For example, there a line running though the four sides of the story with a tiny circle on each side. It loosely follows the geographic route from her birth place, to the Huaqing palace, the capital, and finally her death place. The color changes of the line correspond to the vicissitude of her life. It links the narrative, and I hope it also moves the eyes.

The project is acrylic on a wooden box, and the surface of the box was quite textured. I sanded it, gessoed it, but it’s still very different from painting on canvas or masonite board. It’s a lot of work. Having so many surfaces to work on expand my ability to tell a complex story, but it also gives me the trouble of finding a place for it in the house! 🙂 Honestly speaking, I couldn’t tell if any of these makes sense, but I had a great time working on this project.

Show News and Some More

I recently became a member of the Pacific Art League and joined their 99th Anniversary Exhibit, “Beyond 2020.” My painting “Sail” was selected into the gallery show, and will be on view at their Palo Alto gallery till January 2021. Here’s the piece:

Sail, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 in, 2019

The painting was inspired by a still life study I did before:

Still life, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in, 2019

My still life study was focused on how to paint white with color, but I found the way the lines curved, meandered and crossed very intriguing. After the painting was done, I kept looking at it and tried to follow those lines in my mind and in my sketchbook. The objects gradually disappeared and the lines and shapes led me to new ideas, and eventually, a new painting.

Testing Materials (6) – Black Watercolor Paper

In the last post about materials, I mentioned that Stonehenge has a line a black watercolor paper. The official name is Legion Stonehenge Aqua Cold Press Black. It’s 140lb, and 100% cotton.

I ordered a pad and tried a couple of paintings:

Nikki, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12, September, 2020
Astrid in Design, gouache on paper, 9 x 10, September 2020

Here’s what I find out so far:

  • It behaves like a good quality 140lb watercolor paper. So in theory, you can use water.
  • However, as one can imagine, transparent color doesn’t fire well on black paper. You need a lot of pigment for a color to show, and the colors still dry lighter. So you can’t really use a lot of water.
  • Like any type of black paper, how you deal with value on it is quite counterintuitive.
  • In the first painting I used mostly watercolor and mixed in some gouache white in the highlight area. The second painting is gouache. I personally like the the gouache one better.
  • I feel like I am very lack of imagination with this paper. For the second painting, I believe I could achieve similar effect with ink resist method. While using black paper makes it easier in certain ways, ink resist could have some unexpected result. In other words, it is not particularly empowering.
  • It could be just I don’t know how to make the most out of it.

Show News

“Lamonte,” one of my 100 Day Art Challenge paintings, entered 6th Annual Figures & Faces Art Exhibition at Fusion Art Gallery as a finalist:

Portrait of Lamonte, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12 in, July 2020

“Waterfall” and “Penitencia Creek Park” entered “Landscape” show at Grey Cube Gallery as finalist:

Landscape, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30, 2017
Waterfall, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30
Penitencia Creek Park, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in, 2019

Small steps, but moving forward nonetheless!

Testing Materials (5) – Black Drawing Paper

I have a Strathmore black drawing paper pad that I bought for colored pencil drawings. Unfortunately after a few attempts, I came to the conclusion that colored pencil is too testing for my patience and on black paper, that’s even more so. A drawing like the following, to reach the desired effect (smoother skin, brighter color etc.), would need probably another 20 to 50 layers of coloring (or skills I don’t have to begin with):

Lily, colored pencil, 9 x 12 in, 2020

So what to do with the rest of the paper? Gouache came to mind because the colors come thick and don’t need much water (or at least you can use it that way).

Jazmine, gouache on paper, 9 x 12 in, 2020

I very much like the effect, but as you can see there are wrinkles on paper caused by accidental water drops.

Here’s another one:

Monique, gouache on paper, 9 x 12 in, 2020

After I did these paintings, I found out that Stonehenge actually has a line of black watercolor paper. Order placed already, and stay tuned!

Orange Day

If you are on the west coast you know what I am talking about. The sky is literally orange the whole day, from Oregon to California! I painted this scenery a while ago, as a sunset scene. I mounted to a cradled wood panel, and varnished it (see my previous post about hanging with frame). I believe the varnish darkened the painting a bit, and the result is a perfect depiction of today:

Orange Day, watercolor on paper,11 x 14 in, 2020

As much as I enjoy being a prophet, I miss my neighborhood’s normal color:

Neighborhood walk 1, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12 in, 2020

Show News – “Patterns” Art Exhibition 2020

I recently submitted a couple of artworks to an online exhibition “Patterns” at Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery. One of the submissions received an honorable mention and was selected into Top 15 Artists in the “Painting & Other Media category.”

This is the painting that received the recognition:

Marching, watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 in, 2019

I also submitted one to a different category, “Photography and Digital.” I don’t really have any experience with digital art. I took a watercolor doodle and manipulated it in Photoshop Express and Procreate. It failed to enter the show, understandably, but I had a lot of fun making it:

Bubbly Dance, digital, 2020

Maybe I’ll make a carpet out of it some day!

I am taking a 2D design class this fall and learning some basics about Photoshop. Hopefully I will have some better stuffs to submit next time! 🙂

Light, Space & Time has online exhibitions of various themes and it is cheap to enter. Highly recommend for emerging artists.

Looking Out of My Window

Sometimes when I run out of ideas, I stare at the trees outside my window. Occasionally, I draw or sketch them:

Since I am a bit running out of topic recently, I turned my window scene into a couple of paintings:

Window Scene 1, watercolor on paper, August, 2020
Window Scene 2, watercolor on paper, August 2020

There are usually squirrels dancing on the branches and crows meeting on those roofs, and once in a while, I am waken up by wood peckers attacking the trunks. Some day, I will manage to catch them in my “window paintings.” 🙂

Testing Materials (4) – More Water Soluble Markers

I know Crayola is a kid brand, and I don’t think Crayola Washable Markers are made for watercolor artists. However, for your daily doodling, and small art projects, they work wonders. The markers have conical tips that allow both broad and thin lines, and the colors are quite vibrant:

I recently got hold of a different brand, Tombow Dual Brush Pen Art Markers. You can see from the way it’s packaged (Primary, Secondary, Grayscale, Portrait etc.), Towbow is for artist. With a nylon brush on one side and a fine tip on the other, you can achieve more versatile marks with it. I tried Tombow and Crayola side by side and find them behave similarly:

A few notes:

  • I used 140lb watercolor paper, and all my paintings are small.
  • The colors are quite vibrant and they don’t dry lighter. However, if you have excessive water, it will wash the ink away.
  • You can go back lifting or adding colors. If you add colors with markers when the paper is wet, remember it is much hasher on the paper than applying watercolor with watercolor brushes.
  • As for lightfastness, both Crayola and Tombow claim their colors will fade over time. So maybe not use them in your masterpieces? The prickly pear flower one (top right) was on the wall without any protection for many years and I haven’t seen any color change yet.
  • It is convenient and fun!
Jazmine, Crayola and Tombow markers on paper, 5 x 5, 2020

Experimenting with Materials (3) – Caran d’Ache

Caran d’Ache is a brand not a specific product, but I only know that now! The product is Caran d’Ache Classic Neocolor II Water-Soluble Pastels. My former watercolor teacher introduced it to me many years ago, and called it Caran d’Ache. Even though I bought a 40 colors pack, all these years, I never bothered to read the words on the package, and thus I never knew it was pastel!

I didn’t like Caran d’Ache back then. It’s waxy and leaves a mark like that of a crayon. It also won’t completely dissolve in water. I didn’t appreciate texture very much at that time, and was afraid of any mark that I couldn’t get rid of or hide. I only recently started to pay attention to marks making and textures, and how they enrich composition and set free expression. That why I decided to give the product more chances.

Here are some of ways I tried. First I just used it to sketch, and them apply water and watercolor on top of it. Toward the end, I used them to add more accents.

Catherine, draft.
Catherine, watercolor, 7.5 x 10 in, 2020

I also tried to wet the paper first, with some color, and then applied the Caran d’Ache before the paper dried. Some color bleeds more than others. In the red color figure, I went back and force a bit with the pastel and a wet brush to achieve a desirable result. In the greenish one, the paper dried quickly, and I was only able to do a drawing.

Female figure, 5 x 10 in, 2020
Female figure, 9 x 12 in, 2020

Here a lot of the design in the painting came as an after thought, and Caran d’Ache is a very convenient tool to draw out ideas. While it won’t completely dissolve, it’s easy to hide it with gouache, and it’s also effective in adding textures:

Tigger, watercolor and gouache on paper, 18 x 24in.

A few notes about Caran d’Ache:

  • It’s versatile but overall, works better in expressive drawing – where you don’t care to hide your marks.
  • It’s useful in finalizing or amending a painting,
  • I am not entirely satisfied with the way I am using it, still too careful and too timid.
  • I feel like if I am more competent with or have more confidence in my drawing skill, I could make better use of this tool.
  • I’ll keep playing with it. I have a hunch that it will set me free some day. 🙂