Well, madness overcame us this weekend. That, and a genuine desire to see something beautiful. I’d say we managed it…
The Blakeney CBP Group who we have been working with for some time now are currently holding their next painting exhibition and we decided to go and see it. We were a bit naughty as we didn’t tell them and just decided to turn up. Poor Chris, I think we gave her the shock of her life! Anyway, here is Claire with Chris at the wonderful Cley Marshes Visitor Centre once she had recovered a little:
We can thoroughly recommend you to go and see it – the exhibition is on until Wednesday 26th May 2021. If you’re nearby and fancy a dose of Chinese Brush painting culture please go – there is a wonderful selection of paintings and cards on offer, at very decent prices, from a thriving CBP group, in a fabulous location. There is also great coffee and cake to be had along with big skies which is what Norfolk does so well:
We were lucky enough to add extra culture to our stay too. One of the gems of the Norfolk Coast is a fabulous gallery at Glandford dedicated to Birds which I always drag Claire to if we are over that way. The range of artists and paintings that they have on show is always inspiring so here’s a shameless plug for The BIRDscapes Gallery whose website is linked here.
We are not going to pretend it was easy to find somewhere to stay – it was not. However, we managed to be COVID safe all weekend, thanks to excellent Norfolk hospitality, which was all we could hope for. And we managed to get away from the incessant rain for a short while:
A big thank you to the Blakeney CBP group for providing a well needed dose of spiritual uplift. It was wonderful to see you and your excellent work and we cannot wait to be back painting with you. Well done and keep on growing…
Spoiler alert: I will be revealing the 2021 Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year as part of this blog post. If you have not been able to see the final and intend to watch it, please read no further at this time.
Last weekend (Saturday 27 March 2021) I was honoured to be asked to present my perspective on ‘Chinese Landscapes I love’ to the Chinese Brush Painters Society. In the end this turned into ‘Influential Chinese Landscape Paintings’, still with the above as a subtitle. I decided that as we were going to have the presentation over Zoom that we had opportunity to look at a very few paintings in some great detail. I, therefore, ended up in the middle of the Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127AD) looking at just two Artists with a couple of asides.
The first is the fabulous Guo Xi (1020 – 1098) who was a master of Landscape Painting. He produced many stunning art works, some of which I was very lucky to be able to see when I visited the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.
The painting of Guo Xi’s that I chose to look at was Early Spring which he produced in 1072 and is considered one of the great masterpieces of the Northern Song monumental landscape tradition.
Among many fascinating facts about this piece is that Guo Xi developed a strategy of depicting multiple perspectives called “the angle of totality”. This is one of the reasons why the piece has such aesthetic beauty and why it retains its enduring appeal almost one thousand years later:
The second artist I looked at was Wang Ximeng (1096-1119). His painting is: ‘1000 Li of rivers and mountains (千里江山圖)’. Measuring 51.5 cm high by 1,191.5 cm wide, this sweeping ink-and-colour on silk scroll painting is his only remaining work.
Stretching nearly 12 meters in length, Wang’s masterpiece is impossible to take in all at once and because of its size there is no way I can show the whole painting here as it would simply be too small to see anything (I did try) so I present the tiniest section as a taster. You can actually see a lot more on Wang Ximeng’s Wikipedia entry which I would encourage you to visit:
The painting can be roughly divided into six sections. Each section is linked with detailed images of lakes, boats, cottages, pavilions, bridges and many many figures. However, the focus of each section is invariably its striking blue and green mountains.
Again, this stunning piece has multiple perspectives and is endlessly fascinating to look at because of this.
Since its creation around 1113AD, “Qianli Jianshan Tu,” or “A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains,” has been held up as a masterpiece of traditional Chinese painting. But here is a wonderful reminder that just as stunning as the painting itself is the fact that it was created by a teenager. This always reminds me that we must make space to encourage the next generation of painters.
In which case I now turn my attention to something absolutely brand new and that is the 2021 Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year.
After watching a wonderful series, Claire and I were watching the final Commission episode where the winner, Ophelia Redpath, spent time in an area I walked many years ago. It was wonderful to watch the process of her creating her commission but it was when it was unveiled that it became clear that she was absolutely the best person to have won this competition. Her enduring landscape of Dinas Oleu relies, as the Chinese works above also do, on multiple perspective and her interpretation of the beautiful Welsh landscape is sublime. The addition of the Kite is also perfect. I do not believe I will grow tired of looking at this painting as there is so much in it. Like Chinese Landscape paintings it draws you in and I am conscious of stories unfolding in its landscape:
I hope you have enjoyed the above paintings and can take something from them to spur you on with your own Landscapes…
Moving on from the Year of the Ox, Reg came up with our next theme which was that of Transport. This proved to be a wide ranging topic which started with Oxen and ended up in all sorts of paintings.
I decided I wanted to explore the subject of rickshaws and the first painting, below, was inspired by a photograph of a sleeping modern rickshaw driver. I really enjoyed painting this as a study and learnt about the mechanism of a modern rickshaw:
This enabled me to use this knowledge in my second painting. This, too, was inspired by a photograph of a rickshaw rank in a street in old Beijing but I completely changed the framing of this painting to give it a more Chinese perspective rather than keeping with the perspective in the photograph. I also made sure that there were an auspicious number of rickshaws (eight) disappearing in to the distance in the painting. The Calligraphy on their red covers is an impression of Chinese Calligraphy rather than something specific:
There now follow a couple of wonderful paintings on an even more contemporary theme. This is what Pat has to say about her paintings:
“Coasthopper buses run along the North Norfolk Coast between Wells-next-the-Sea and Sheringham and are much loved by visitors, walkers, bird watchers and locals. They pass Cley Windmill and Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley and Salthouse Marshes, where Blakeney CBP Group hold regular exhibitions of their work. It is delightful to look out from the Gallery, to watch these sturdy little buses, bouncing along the coast road, bringing visitors.”
I hope this inspires you to think of other types of transport which you could paint…
Feng Shui master Thierry Chow tells CNN, “The Ox, in Chinese culture, is a hardworking zodiac sign. It usually signifies movement so, hopefully, the world will be less static than last year and get moving again in the second half of the year”. I am sure we all agree that this would be fantastic.
In the meantime our CBP Challenge Group has been painting lots of different Oxen in preparation for this Chinese year so here follows our herd.
First of all come a number of paintings from Claire. The first one, a traditional composition, picks up a couple of themes I am sure a lot of people will be familiar with but in a Chinese style. These are home schooling and exercise in lockdown:
The next painting is another traditional composition of a young boy riding on the back of a buffalo. This is a development of the theme of the Ox and Boy and is linked in this separate blog post:
After this we have another version of the Ox and boy but this time both are in repose:
Finally, a more contemporary style of Cattle picking up particularly the texture of this Highland Cow’s coat:
Following Claire’s herd, my latest Ox painting is a further development of the theme of the Ox and Boy, linked in this separate blog post:
Next, come a couple of Ox relaxing after their incredibly hard toil as Pat explores the nature of the Ox as support for rural cultures and, therefore, beasts of burden…
I especially like the Seal Script version of Ox which Pat has included in this painting above.
Hope you enjoy painting Oxen throughout this year.
I must confess it has taken a little while to get my thoughts together for this blog post as I come down from last Thursdays meeting. The Dragons challenge has been an intense one as most of us would agree, however, the level of work was astounding and outstripped all of our expectations. What was also fantastic was how many paintings had been produced. I take my hat off to how productive this Challenge group is – wonderful work everyone and I would be pleased to post up here any of the beautiful paintings.
We will start with a couple of paintings by Chris who originally set us the Challenge and quite honestly forced me to bring together as much of my Dragon documentation as I have. Thank you Chris. I have to include this painting first which I see as a metaphor for the Challenge group as we are in the process of watching the birth of painting dragons – phenomenal forces of nature. It also shows one Dragon getting their first taste of producing a fire ball, whereas the other is adept at producing smoke…
The next painting is a more classical painting of a regal dragon. Note the 5-claw toes and the royal colours, blue and yellow:
Next, we have a different take on a Blue Dragon. I have to say that considering this is the first time that Kim has ever painted a Dragon, and she has had no formal teaching on the subject, I think we were all really impressed with this Happy Dragon and the Calligraphy. This one is of course a Prince among Dragons – note the 4-claw toes…
Next, we come right up to date with a phenomenal painting by Claire as the Dragon emerges from the cloud with mask, sanitiser and vaccine…Claire says ” I was trying to find a different approach to painting a dragon, yet incorporating the traditional elements such as a pig’s nose, deer antlers and cow’s ears. The eyes are, however, westernised as Paul pointed out immediately. I was feeling quite frustrated at being able to do very little to combat this pesky virus so I summoned up my 2021 virus-beating dragon to help. Sometimes only painting in anger will do…”
As I had intimated with the previous Dragon blog posts I have been looking at very classical Dragons and especially the work of Chen Rong (1200 – 1266) of the Song Dynasty who produced probably the most recognisable Dragons in the Chinese painting Canon – The Nine Dragons. My painting below takes his work as inspiration and compresses a couple of the Dragons to produce tension. I cannot wait to have time to produce a larger piece with more Dragons…
Lastly, but by no means least I had to include this wonderful painting by Reg. As a fellow tai chi practitioner I always appreciate thoughtful images of tai chi practice and this fits so well with our theme:
There is no doubt that there will be more to follow and I am sure that we all invoke the Dragon to bring energy in to the Year of the Ox…
We hope you enjoy playing with Dragons and look forward to seeing further work. The Dragon blog posts linked below are:
Probably the most famous Chinese painting of Dragons is that by Chen Rong (1200 – 1266) of the Song Dynasty who was an official, poet, and Taoist who specialised in painting the Dragon, a symbol both of the emperor and of the mysterious all-pervading force of the Tao. Chen Rong’s paintings show these fabulous creatures emerging from amid rocks and clouds. His hand scroll entitled ‘The Nine Dragons’ has become widely recognised as the reference Dragon work. Should you wish to see it, the piece is in the possession of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The Legend of the Nine Dragons
The mainland overlooking Hong Kong is called Kowloon, which literally means Nine Dragons. Legend states the mainland was named this by the Chinese Emperor, Bing who fled there after the Song Dynasty. Originally, he named it after the eight hills predominantly located on the land. His servant supposedly observed that the Emperor should also be counted among the regal figures. Hence, the “Jiu long” or Nine Dragons nomenclature was born.
The Nine Dragons
P’u-lao: Alerts one to danger, and serves as a protector. Often engraved on bells, sacred singing bowls, and gongs
Ch’iu-niu: Creator of Yang energy through the use of ancient dragon music
Pi-his: Provider of knowledge, luck and upholds the virtue of finer education
Pa-hsia: Provider of strength and support when called upon during times of need
Chao-feng: Guardian of the holy places, sacred lands, and holy temples
Chih wen: Symbolizes the power of water over fire
Suan-ni: Mighty protector and emblem against theft, loss or betrayal of any kind
Yai-tzu: Protector and guardian against any physical harm
Pi-kau: Defends again litigation, verbal disputes, or false accusations.
I hope you have found this Dragon sequence useful. If there are other Dragon symbols that you are aware of, please get in touch.
Please note: The Calligraphy for Dragon, along with the other Zodiac Animals is available on the link here.
Chinese Dragons are the ultimate symbols of cosmic energy. The Dragon is said to be the most potent symbol of good fortune in the Chinese pantheon of symbols. As one of the four creatures of the world’s directions, the Dragon stands for new beginnings. The Dragon has the power to release water to parched lands which means it stands for abundance and relief. Continued success, high achievement, and prosperity are also listed among the Dragons arsenal of good qualities, which rank it one of the most popular of Chinese signs.
Dragon riding the clouds
Clouds are symbols of celestial mobility because many gods and immortals used clouds as vehicles on which they travelled. One such is the Monkey King who could summon a cloud with a special whistle. Cloud is also considered a portent of good luck, carrying much needed rains that enable the growth of abundant crops. When clouds are combined with auspicious Chinese Dragons, this makes a perfect emblem to manifest positive effects in your life.
Dragon and pearl
A pearl is often depicted with a Chinese Dragon. The pearl is sometimes thought to represent the moon. In fact, one legend has it that some Dragons had become infatuated with the moon, and went insane trying to steal it from the sky. Other tales depict the pearl as an egg placed beneath the Dragons neck or chin. The Dragon is said to carry the egg away until it is ready to hatch. By far the most agreed upon tale is that the pearl represents the Dragon’s wisdom, hence the term: “pearls of wisdom”…
Dragon and Tiger
These two great forces of the universe reflect the primordial Yin and Yang of existence. To the Chinese, the Tiger is the emblem of dignity, and courage. This, combined with the abundance, luck, and Yang energy of the Chinese Dragon is a combination that is hard to beat.
Dragon with Phoenix
Together, the Dragon and Phoenix symbolise Yin and Yang i.e. perfect balance. Standing alone, each symbol is hugely powerful. Together they represent a powerful union of success, prosperity, friendship, love, and enlightenment. The union of these two highly symbolic creatures at wedding festivities suggests a match that is blessed with money and incredible luck. Furthermore, it denotes the beginning of a dynastic family with the Dragon symbolising the patriarch and the phoenix signifying the matriarch.
As discussed in a previous blog post, Chinese Dragon Origins, the crocodile, and therefore, the Dragon have the power to control the weather. This means that Chinese Dragons move through the air, not by beating wings (which they do not have) but freely as if swimming, their incredibly flexible bodies twisting and turning without effort.
Their long bodies undulate, swirl and loop through the air while their legs can be seen to flail in all directions, almost as if disconnected from their bodies. Tip: This can make it easier to paint them. Their claws are hyperactive and wide open as if ready to take prey, or to grasp a huge pearl…
There is some interpretation of a Dragon’s characteristics but here follows the essence of a Dragon, which may be drawn on, when creating your own. Below is an example of a Song Dynasty Dragon using the characteristics detailed below:
There are nine characteristics detailed here, some of which come from Zodiac animals. There could be more, or less, depending on which tradition you follow or how detailed you wish to make your painting. I have added examples of Dragon characteristics as I have come across them. They could have the:
There are a variety of interpretations to explain the number of claws that a Dragon might have. I have pulled together a few here. Again, if you know more then please let me know.
Chinese Dragons have five claws on each foot while Indonesian or Korean dragons have four, and Japanese dragons have three. To explain this phenomenon, Chinese legend states that all Imperial dragons originated in China, and the further away from China a Dragon went the fewer claws it had. Dragons only exist in China, Korea, Indonesia, and Japan because if they travelled further they would have no claws to continue. The Japanese legend has a story similar to the Chinese one, namely that dragons originated in Japan, and the further they travelled the more claws they grew and as a result, if they went too far they would have too many claws to continue to walk properly.
Official interpretation within China was that five claw Dragons are reserved for emperors (five is the holy number i.e. there are five elements. Four claw Dragons are reserved for kings, princes and certain high rank officials. Three claw Dragons are used by the merchant class. Since Korea and other nations only held the title of king (with respect to the emperor in China), they are only allowed to use four claw Dragons. Improper use of claw number is considered a sign of rebellion, and could be punished heavily such as through the execution of a whole clan.
Another interpretation according to several sources, including historical official documents, is that ordinary Chinese dragons had four toes, but the Imperial Dragon had five. It was a capital offence for anyone, other than the emperor, his blood relatives, and the very few officials who were granted such an extraordinary privilege by the emperor – to use the five-clawed dragon motif.
Korean sources seem to oppose this theory, as the Imperial dragon in Gyeongbok Palace has seven claws, implying its superiority over the inferior Chinese Dragon. Of course, this Dragon image is hidden in the rafters of the palace and is not entirely in view, even to those who know it is there, suggesting that while the ancient Koreans viewed it as superior, they also knew that it would be offensive to the Imperial Chinese Court.
The Han style Dragon is also 3 clawed, which may explain how the 3 clawed dragon came to Japan during the Tang or pre-Tang period.
Please note: The Calligraphy for Dragon, along with the other Zodiac Animals is available on the link here.
We have recently been challenged to look once more at Chinese Dragons. This has presented the opportunity to gather all the information I have acquired on Dragons and try to put it together in some semblance of order and accuracy. Over the years there has been a lot of contradictory information as the mythology around the Chinese Dragon has been passed down through the ages. This is, therefore, going to be part of an iterative process as I add more images in due course.
In which case, should there be something you do not agree with, please let me know by Commenting as I am more than happy to revisit the source of some of this information. If you have a better source, please share. In the meantime I trust that this sequence of 5 blog posts is useful to you.
Please note: The Calligraphy for Dragon, along with the other Zodiac Animals is available on the link here.
The origin of the Chinese Dragon is uncertain, but many scholars agree that it originated from totems of different tribes in China. Some have suggested that it comes from a stylized depiction of existing animals, such as snakes, fish, or crocodiles. For example, the Banpo site of the Yangshao culture in Shaanxi Province featured an elongated, snake-like fish motif. Archaeologists believe the “long fish” to have evolved into images of the Chinese Dragon.
The association with fish is reflected in the legend of a carp that saw the top of a mountain and decided he was going to reach it. He swam upstream, climbing rapids and waterfalls letting nothing get in the way of his determination. When he reached the top there was the mythical “Dragon Gate” and when he jumped over he became a Dragon. Several waterfalls and cataracts in China are believed to be the location of the Dragon Gate. It is worth noting that Dragon Gate Taoism is currently the largest existing Taoism branch in the world according to Wikipedia.
Fundamentally, this legend is used as an allegory for the drive and effort needed to overcome obstacles and achieve success.
An alternative view, advocated by He Xin, is that the early Dragon depicted a species of ancient, giant saltwater crocodile, the precursor to today’s Crocodylus porosus, the largest living reptile. The crocodile is known to be able to accurately sense changes in air pressure, and, therefore, to sense coming rain. This may have been the origin of one of the Dragon’s mythical attributes to control the weather, especially the rain. In addition, there is evidence of crocodile worship in ancient Babylonian, Indian, and Mayan civilizations. The association with the crocodile is also supported by the ancient view that large crocodiles were a variety of Dragon. For example, in the Story of Zhou Chu, about the life of a Jin Dynasty General, he is said to have killed a “Dragon” that infested the waters of his home village, which appears to have been a crocodile.
Some support for the crocodile hypothesis may come from the fact that the Marsh dragon “jiao long” in ancient Chinese legend is known as the ‘Water Dragon’. Its habitats are mostly ponds, valley lakes or deep under the rivers and streams (not sea) which are far away from residents.
The coiled snake or Dragon form played an important role in early Chinese culture. Legendary figures like Nüwa (女媧), the mother goddess of Chinese mythology (credited with creating humanity), and the sister and wife of Fuxi (伏羲), the emperor-god, are depicted as having snake bodies. Some scholars report that the first legendary Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang Di (黃帝 – The Yellow Emperor) used a snake for his coat of arms. Every time he conquered another tribe, he incorporated his defeated enemy’s emblem into his own. This may explain why the Dragon appears to have the features of various animals.
There is no apparent connection to the western Dragon. In fact, if anything they are opposites where Western Dragons are generally seen as evil.
For a superb example of this reference Smaug from The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien which has been stunningly re-imagined by Peter Jackson for the big screen.
What a fabulous evening we have just had! Before Christmas the CBP Challengers group set ourselves the challenge of Seals and we have just seen some of the best Chinese paintings of an unconventional subject that we could imagine. Well done to everyone who contributed and thank you.
Unfortunately I cannot share all of the wonderful work but we have been given permission to share some of the paintings…
First up are a couple of paintings by Reg. Both are a play on words which fits the Chinese tradition so well:
Next are a couple of paintings from Claire. The first painting is of a baby seal and concentrates on the texture of the seals’ skin. It also explores the head looking straight at the viewer (which is by far the hardest composition) although the eyes are looking at something off the painting:
Claire’s second painting explores more of the flopping movement of a seal/sealion when they move on the beach. Particular note was paid to the flippers:
Kim was the brains behind the challenge as she proposed Seals/ Sea-lions/ Walruses. She painted some wonderful seals but the piece I wanted to include was this fabulous one of a group of Walruses:
My painting was inspired by the excellent paintings of the 10th century Chan painter, Shi Ke who lived during the 5 dynasties period. His work was featured in the stunning ‘Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 – 1900‘ exhibition which took place a few years ago at the V&A Museum in London. In Shi Ke’s paintings, chiefly of Buddhist and Daoist subjects, he set out in the Chan manner to shock the viewer through distortion and roughness of execution. I hoped to capture the essence of that with the following painting:
I was going to formally entitle this piece ‘Harmony’ after the original which has the title ‘Two Chan Patriarchs harmonising their minds’. However, Claire reminded me that it would be probably be more in keeping with the Chan mindset to not put a title on the painting. I purposely painted this painting on grass paper in keeping with the age and tradition of the original work. You may also notice the addition of a moon with a very misty Rat Dragon cloud in the sky denoting coming toward the end of the Year of the Rat…
It is worth noting that the book of the Masterpieces exhibition where we got to see Shi Ke’s work is available online through this search.
Some of you may recognise that I have done something similar in the past. You would, of course, be correct as I have been inspired by the works of Shi Ke many times. For those who are interested in this fascinating artist please also see my other blog post entitled: Be bold
We trust that something here may cheer you up and inspire you while we are stuck in lockdown.
As Claire has stated in her most recent blog post, we have carried out a lot of very interesting Chinese Brush Painting Challenges throughout 2020. The last few before Christmas seemed to come in like machine gun fire which meant for not a lot of thinking time – sometimes not a bad thing!
Below is a quick amalgamation of the last few challenges to give ideas should you get stuck for some inspiration. Please post back if you are inspired and if you take any of these in a different direction…
Challenge 8: Bird and Boat
As usual there were many variations on this theme. For this Challenge I was reminded of time on the South West Coastal path near Wembury. I was inspired by a beautiful spot on the coast looking to ‘Shag Stone’ where the Cormorants and Shags gather to fish in the sea…
I have to say that this Challenge ended up being an unexpected pleasure with so much variation from everyone. I went back to my research of past paintings to put together something classic. I brought together a Pine Tree for Longevity together with other Longevity symbols such as the Tai Hu rock and the Ganoderma Fungi. This I painted on grass paper to get the soft shades of grey:
Challenge 11: Mist & Challenge 12: Festive Trees and Rats
I think it is safe to say that Mist is probably the biggest Challenge subject for any painter so it was an excellent subject to have a go at as any chance to practice mist is not wasted for the Landscape painter. I decided to combine my research with our last subject of the year to give a misty Landscape with festive trees. In our Challenge 11 call I had discussed stylised cloud and mist so thought it was best to give a new example on a traditional theme. The title of this piece is literally Misty Pine Mountain however the character I chose for Misty literally means Indistinct:
I hope you have enjoyed these Challenge pieces. As I said earlier should you be inspired by any of these please feel free to Comment back at any time.
Here’s thanking everyone who took part in any of the Challenges and wishing all of us a Happy 2021 and excellent painting opportunities.