Brush With Serenity 2

Chinese brushes, ink block, and ink stone

Last week, I shared about the calm and serene state one can enter into while holding a Chinese brush, and doing calligraphy (see the post here). This week we’ll have more of that, only this time we use the brush to make pictures. They’re not really paintings, but drawings done in brush and ink.

There’s something about using these materials that gives the drawings an Asian flair. Or maybe it’s all in my head. But what’s real to me is a certain clarity in the picture that emerges, despite the economy of stroke that does not give a lot of detail, just general suggestions of shapes and forms. This completeness amid stark simplicity makes me feel quiet and peaceful, not just while doing it, but also while looking at the finished product.

I found a couple of how-to videos on YouTube by this nice lady Nan Rae. The first one below is on making a Chinese orchid, and is quite simple. The second one is on how to paint/draw a plum branch.

I decided to try the Chinese orchid. That light-heavy-light-heavy pressure in a single stroke takes some practice. Nan Rae makes her strokes from right to left in the video, and when I tried to do the same, the results were seriously sad-looking. When I tried making those leafy blades by starting on the left, it felt more natural, and looked more pleasing. So that’s what I did.

versions of Chinese orchid

I wanted to try doing some animals, and so I looked to some of my old issues of National Geographic as reference. I found that if I used light paper, I could but it on top of the picture and sort of see through it, and just trace some of the elements. Since I don’t have Nan Rae coaching me through this, I just went about it intuitively. I tried to use simple, broken strokes, that just hint at the subject. I don’t think I have it down pat yet, but it’s a start.

National Geographic back issues

Bird studies in Chinese brush and ink

Bird drawn in Chinese ink

What I learned from this whole experience is that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and that I have to be forgiving of my fumbles, and learn to embrace them, as they hold my uniqueness. What I’d really like to do someday is to be able to draw from life with this kind of mindset. I tend to be very much in my head still, and very critical and impatient with myself sometimes (i.e. most of the time). I have to remind myself often to just live in the moment with my subject and enjoy the seeing as much as the drawing. I’m reading this book about drawing as meditation, Frederick Franck’s “Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing”, and I’m finding it very helpful.

"Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing" by Frederick Franck

All photos in this post by Nathalie Mariano.

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