09.2: Using The Flow Of Water To Create An Abstract 山水 (Shanshui) Painting
Welcome. In this blog, you will read about my experiences in painting my final senior project piece (Maybe I’ll squeeze out a bonus work).
This painting takes after the traditional Chinese landscape painting, 山水 (shanshui). “山水” is composed of the words mountain and water. The sceneries depicted in 山水 are mountains, rivers, and waterfalls. A common theme throughout the dynasties has been tiny human travelers and structures in the foreboding mountains, marking nature’s sublimity and peace.
Perhaps the most important part is the artist’s expression, as emphasized by Song and Yuan Dynasty scholar-painters. This is partly why I thought Abstract Expressionism, a movement all about going beyond realism to express figurative emotions, can blend so well with Chinese art. Both have an emphasis on the artist’s unique expression.
For this piece, I have taken inspiration from China’s 山水 and moved it along the abstract scale. Please take a look.
The Final Artwork
This 28x79cm piece is my largest 山水 painting. I referenced an early Fong Chung-Ray painting for its composition and rotated from horizontal to vertical. My intentions with the piece were simple. I wanted improve my control over 水墨 (shuimo, water-ink), implement colors, and create an abstract artwork that instilled Chinese aesthetics. I decided on a tall mountain, peering over the fog, where the painting itself pours downwards like a mighty waterfall.
To do this artwork well, I would need to demonstrate some expertise over 水墨. I wanted my painting to have depth and details to make it interesting. Starting at the top, I looked to use more than one gray. Still, I wanted the hard black ink to blend into the lighter grays (in some areas). Here I applied water to the edges of a hard black structure to create a smoother transition. When I wanted my brush strokes to flow, I applied clear water in the shape and amount desired before the ink. Using these simple methods (and more cups of water and ink), I created the top half’s black structure.
Next, I began to add the yellow and rosy-pink color (thinking back orange instead of the pink and then maybe a little bit of green would have been cooler). The colored ink does not cover the black, so I can fill the spaces with ease. The two colors do not mix well after applied on paper, especially after it dried, but I did find out later that mixing my cup of colored ink with diluted black ink was useful. The colors worked out in the end, but it could have been better. The color selection may be better and its strength was weak. The yellow fades dramatically after drying, though diluted acrylic paint would not.
For the lower half, I wanted a transition to lighter colors, where the flow of water takes over. Here I made great use of water, adding before and after the ink. On the left side, there is a black splash where you can still see the water’s effects. During the making of this painting, I noticed how I can manipulate the water to create certain effects. My work is on top of a sheet of mixed media paper which is water resistant. If I apply more water with the ink, there will be water that seeps through my xuan paper and rests on the backdrop. You can see this through the paper. This creates an effect, and I can tilt the painting and have the water on the back move around. When I settle the painting down and let it dry, the water effects remain. If I don’t want the impact to be as distinct, I can lift the xuan paper and wipe the water off the backdrop after some drying or no drying at all.
Here is an example of this technique.
I went back to other parts of the painting to add small details, such as rough lines and dots, which popped against the watery textures now that the painting is dry. Once satisfied, I proceeded to sign my name and stamp my seal in the bottom right corner.
The painting was without a doubt closer to Chinese painting than Abstract Expressionism, but I would say it qualifies as abstract Chinese art. There are no longer defined trees populating the landscape, or people traveling the mountains. Only the predominant black stands as the closest representation to a lofty mountain. I refrained from western materials for I was too chicken to condemn my calligraphy brushes to harden under acrylic paint (hard to clean)! I should also note that the paper I painted on wasn’t actually xuan paper. It was actually some cotton (oops!). Anyways, the artwork can use much improvement, but it’s not too bad for someone who never painted before.
I will for sure continue to explore and experiment with materials, techniques, and styles in the future, and maybe create an avant-garde method of painting. Let’s see what I do in my final week of senior project!
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed the painting. Cheers!