Yesterday, we welcomed Leicestershire Chinese Brush Painters (LCBP) back to our first in-person workshop of 2021 in a different venue but still within the University of Leicester Botanic Gardens. It was fantastic to be back and to see people in 3D rather than just via a screen. I have really missed you all!
Anyway, with this being the first workshop I thought it was a good opportunity for us to go back to our classical roots (oh dear) and look at trees in Autumn (especially as we have so many fantastic examples in the Botanic Gardens). Here is a prime example of the Botanic Gardens as it was yesterday, which Claire reminded me was perfectly in keeping with Remembrance weekend as the dropped Acer leaves do indeed look like a sea of poppies:
We worked our way through building up our own Autumn trees and I wanted to share some further examples, both to bolster what I was talking about, but also to enhance your homework. I am reminded that there are some great examples in the Mustard seed garden manual. Below are two examples of a tree without its foliage along with another which is classically made up of dots for all those pointillists out there:
The next example is related to how trees are portrayed in classical paintings and the stories in them. I talked briefly about Twin Pines which is one of Zhao Mengfu’s (1254-1322) most famous paintings (painted ca. 1310). A little research will deliver this on the web. However, I thought I would post up probably a lesser known example of Ni Zan’s (1301-1374) Autumn Trees, which I favour:
I have just finished reading a wonderful book on holiday and thought I would share the details here as I am sure that others interested in all things Chinese would enjoy it. As the blog post suggests it is entitled ‘Stranger in my heart’ and is written by Mary Monro. ISBN 978-1-91158-668-5.
It is a wonderful story of, as it states on the front cover, A daughter’s quest to discover the lost world of her father.
Claire originally discovered this book at our holiday let when we went to Shropshire in the Summer. She said I would enjoy it and so it was waiting for an opportunity which came recently when we went up to the Forest of Bowland.
It resonated with me in a number of ways, not least of all because I had travelled in the footsteps of her father, John Monro, in Hong Kong and it filled in a lot of blanks that I had. One that I was surprised about, when I stayed on Mount Davis in Hong Kong, was what looked like pill boxes on the steep hill sides. They were still there in 2002 but I hadn’t realised they had been there since the Second World War. Probably, down to the inaccessibility of some of the countryside.
Mary Monro writes in a very easy to read way which makes the text come alive. She has obviously carried out a phenomenal amount of background research which provides clear motivations for key moments in 20th Century history as well as linking so well to her family’s history.
There is much to recommend this book and I will leave this post with thanks to Mary Monro for sharing her family with us and the synopsis on the back of the book:
John Monro MC never mentioned his Second World War experiences, leaving his daughter Mary with unresolved mysteries when he died in 1981.
He fought at the battle of Hong Kong, made a daring escape across Japanese-occupied China and became Assistant Military Attache in Chongqing. Caught up in Far East war strategy, he proposed a bold plan to liberate the PoWs he’d left behind before fighting in Burma in 1944. But by the time Mary was born he’d become a Shropshire farmer, revealing nothing of his heroic past.
Thirty years after his death and prompted by hearing him described as a ’20th Century great’, Mary began her quest to explore this stranger she’d called Dad…
For so many years I had heard about Missenden Abbey and the creative courses that went on there. However, it was an unexpected pleasure when we were approached to teach at such an auspicious venue:
Nestled in beautiful countryside, Missenden Abbey is at Great Missenden, a large village in the Misbourne Valley in the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire.
Will and Alison, the tutor organisers, made my students and I very welcome and could not do enough to make sure that everyone was happy and had all the necessary equipment and facilities.
We had an enjoyable time looking at Fish, Bamboo, Wild Iris and Rocks along with Willow and Pine Trees. There were fabulous paintings produced and the level of concentration was palpable as you can see here:
If nothing else, it was to great to be back teaching ‘in person’. I have really missed this and cannot wait for the next teaching opportunity.
Thank you to all my wonderful students for coming with me, for all the help that Will and Alison gave and for the facilities offered by the team at Missenden Abbey.
I very much look forward to seeing what paintings are produced after this course…
Well, this morning I was very pleasantly surprised to discover the next edition of the Chinese Brush Painting Society Newsletter on my desk. It is always a joy to open and discover what’s in it – the CBPS Newsletter is one of a very few newsletters that actually still comes in the post, thank goodness. There on the front cover, was a painting I had a lot of fun with:
What was even better was when I opened it up and found an excellent display of Eagles and Birds of Prey. Definitely one of my favourite subjects to paint! Claire was in there too so it is well worth checking out. I won’t go into detail here, the rest is for you to discover…
Should you not be a member of the Chinese Brush Painters Society do sign up as there are 4 of these wonderful newsletters a year plus a calendar. There are also extra projects which make it more than worthwhile…
Hopefully, this will inspire you to paint some wonderful Birds of Prey. Should you get stuck do remember I have my Birds Portfolio which I hope will assist. Please do post back with any paintings you create from inspirations here…
New Opportunities for Beginners who want to study Chinese Brush Painting
I have been asked a number of times ‘what have you been doing in lockdown?’. Basically, I have been using the extra time to sort out as much as possible from years of painting along with trying new things, some of which have now come to fruition…
I wanted to flag up a project that has now reached its conclusion and is looking excellent thanks to a wonderful team at the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester.
Following the successful online Chinese Brush Painting (CBP) workshops around Chinese New Year 2021 I was invited to input into the Attenborough Arts at Home project.
The idea behind this was to create a complete package for absolute CBP beginners in order to give students access to the fascinating and fabulous art of Chinese Brush Painting.
Students can buy a beginners CBP kit which is available through the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester. I was able to have input into the kit which is why I am happy to have my name attached to it. Over a period of time in the Spring I filmed a studio quality Introduction to CBP which has been edited and packaged so that when you buy the kit you also receive the film.
It would be the ideal start for anyone who has not had the chance to go through a formal introduction to the art of Chinese Brush Painting but is keen to see what all the fuss is about.
Should you, or any of your friends or students, take up this introduction do please let me know what you think and any thoughts about next steps as I am always keen to help make the art of Chinese Brush Painting accessible to all.
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 Chinese 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 jiǔ lóng (or Nine Dragons) nomenclature was born.
The Nine Dragons (jiǔ lóng)
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 Azure Dragon of the East stands for new beginnings (the others are the Vermilion Bird of the South, the White Tiger of the West, and the Black Tortoise (also called “Black Warrior”) of the North). 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. Arguably, the most famous 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.