This tutorial covers the following topics:

  1. A study of a painting by Wang Shi-man (王時敏) (1592 – 1680)
  2. Introduction to two different types of rice paper – sized and unsized rice paper
  3. A study of a landscape painting by Li Liu-fang (李流芳) (1575 – 1629)

In Tutorial 2, we study a painting with wide view (平遠景像). In Tutorial 3, we study a painting with a view of depth (深遠景像). In this Tutorial we are going to study a painting with a vertical panorama (高遠景像). Vertical panorama in photography can be achieved by stitching several shots together in exactly the same way as a horizontal panorama. Similar technique can be used in painting.

1.  A study of a painting by Wang Shi-min (王時敏) (1592 – 1680)

 

a landscape painting by Wang Shi-min (王時敏)
a landscape painting by Wang Shi-min (王時敏)

 

The composition of this painting follows the traditional format. The foreground contains a few large trees with different kinds of leaves. Two houses were built on the shore. There is a path which leads up to some buildings (probably temples) in the middle of the hills.  Above those buildings is a layer of mist and fog. The top part of the hills is visible above this layer of mist and fog. On the top left hand side of the painting,  a waterfall hangs down from the hanging cliffs. On the top of the waterfall is a winding stream. On the top right hand side is a hanging cliff with a platform.

Chinese landscape painting is largely confined to this composition of trees in the foreground with misty hills behind. This set format leads many Westerners to believe that Chinese landscape painting is repetitive and monotonous. The beauty of good Chinese landscape painting lies on the variations of the brushwork and the use of ink.

The painting can be copied in a few stages.

Stage 1

We start the painting by sketching the tree trunks of the foreground in pale grey ink. More branches are added using darker grey ink. Darker lines are added to the tree trunk to make the trees look sturdy and strong.

Stage 1
Stage 1

 

Stage 2

Symbols like the alphabet ‘M’ (个字葉及介字葉) and dots (點), etc., are added to the tree branches as leaves. After the trees have been drawn, we can start sketching the rocks in the foreground, the near-by shore. The rocks come in different sizes, with bigger ones surrounding the smaller ones.

 Ts’un like hemp-fibre ts’un (披麻皴) or ox-hair ts’un  (牛毛皴) or a combination of the two can be added to the surface of the rocks.  Use pale grey ink in the 1st layer. Let it dry a bit and add the 2nd layer. Wait until it more or less dries, add the 3rd layer and so on until the desired tone is achieved. The layers should blend well with one another. Two houses are added.

2
Stage 2

 

Stage 3

Add more ts’un (皴) to give the rocks more three dimensional appearance. Sketch the hills behind the foreground.

3
Stage 3

 

Stage 4

Add ts’un (皴) starting from a pale tone. Wait for a while and put another layer onto the first layer. Repeat this process until the desired tone is achieved. Draw the buildings in the middle of the hills.

Stage 4
Stage 4

 

Stage 5

Leave a patch of empty area on the top of the hills as in the original painting. Then sketch the outline of top of the hills. On the top left hand side of the painting, sketch the cliffs and the waterfall. On the top of the waterfall is a winding stream. On the top right hand side of the painting sketch the hanging cliff and the platform.

The distant mountains are executed in ‘splashed ink technique’ (pomo) (撥墨) in a small scale. First the base of the distant mountains has to be wetted with clean water. The top of the mountains is drawn with pale grey ink. The ink washes along the mountains from the top to the base and get diluted.  This creates a gradual pale tone from pale grey to very pale grey and eventually colourless.

Actually the group of distant mountains is the last item to be put onto the painting. I put it in before the adjacent rocks are shaded because I would like my readers to have a clearer view of it.

Stage 5
Stage 5

 

Stage 6

Add the t’sun using pale grey ink. The tone of the hills should get paler and paler before it reaches the summit. A pale tone of ink is added to the bottoms of rocks to give the structures more three dimensional appearance.

Lastly an inscription is put onto the painting.

Finished work
The finished work with the inscription of the date (in the First Lunar Month of 2015 乙未元月), my name 蕭燿漢 and 2 small red seals of my surname and my alias 倬雲.

 

Wáng Shímǐn (王時敏) ( 1592-1680 ) was a great Chinese landscape artist. He was born in Jiangsu (江蘇) province, Wang grew up in an artistic, scholarly environment. His grandfather was a prime minister in the late Ming dynasty, and his father was a Hanlin  (翰林) Academy editor for the court, who had studied with Tung Chi-chang (董其昌). After learning painting and calligraphy at a young age, Wang worked as a government official. However he fell ill due to exhaustion on a trip to Nanking (南京)in 1630. Wang returned to his homeland and immersed himself in art, creating numerous works. Wang’s works place him in a respected group known as the Four Wangs (四王) of the Qing Dynasty.

 

 

2.  Introduction to two different types of rice paper – sized and unsized rice paper 

Rice paper or shuen (xuan) paper is used for Chinese Calligraphy and painting. The paper is not made from rice, but traditionally from tree bark. There are two main types of shuen (xuan) paper – sized and unsized. Each may be used for a different purpose.

Unsized rice paper, sometimes called raw rice paper (生宣紙), is absorbent. The moisture goes through. It is best for spontaneous painting with bold and fast brush strokes in the abstract style showing the dynamics of xiěyì (寫意). This is best for calligraphy. As it is highly absorbent, it requires a firm and experienced brush handling, fast movements of the brush, and a high moisture control, otherwise ink and colours will spread out uncontrolledly.

Sized rice paper, which is less absorbent because it is coated with an alum solution (明礬 potassium aluminium sulfate). Artists call those sized paper alum-treated paper (礬紙) or commonly ‘mature’ shuen (xuan) paper (熟宣紙). The ink does not penetrate the paper; it stays on the outside and shines therefore outwardly. This rice paper is best for more detailed, delicate painting, where the brush work is done with slow and multiple strokes.

On the whole sized rice paper is easier to handle for beginners. Less experience in brush handling and moisture control is needed as ink and colours do not spread. It lends itself to multiple washes, which can easily be applied one after the other. However, the different shades of the ink and colours on sized paper are not as vibrant as on unsized paper because the alum coat.

The following two paintings were executed on these two different types of rice paper.

Painting of Huáng Bīnhóng (黃賓虹) (1865-1955) on unsized rice paper shows the dynamics of xiěyì (寫意)
A painting of Huáng Bīnhóng (黃賓虹) (1865-1955) on unsized rice paper shows the dynamics of xiěyì (寫意)

 

Painting of Wang Hui (王翬) (1632 - 1717)on sized rice paper shows detailed and delicate work
A painting of Wang Hui (王翬) (1632 – 1717)on sized rice paper shows detailed and delicate work

 

It is customary to always paint on the smooth side of the paper.

The large hand-made sheets of rice paper usually come in a standard size of about 68 x 136 cm.

Rice paper comes in different degrees of thickness. The most common are one-ply and two-ply rice paper sheets.  For beginners one-ply rice paper can be frustrating to work with. An excellent alternative is two-ply paper which is in general less demanding, but it is much more expensive.

Red Star Brand of Ānhuī (安徽) produces high quality rice paper.

3.  A study of a landscape painting by Li Liu-fang (李流芳) (1575 – 1629)
a landscape painting based on T’ang Dynasty Poem by Li Liu-fang (李流芳)
a landscape painting based on T’ang Dynasty Poem by Li Liu-fang (李流芳)

The painting shows a waterfall amidst the hills and rapids amidst the rocky shores. The long grasses in front of the mountains are highly vivid and poetic. The vegetation at the bottom of the hills together with two simple dwellings create an atmosphere of peace and serenity. The brushstrokes are quick and precise depicting the high expertise of the artist.

Quiz : Did the artist paint on sized or unsized rice paper ?

Answer : The artist painted on sized rice paper with the highest skill. As mentioned before, sized paper has been coated with alum solution. Ink and colour do not penetrate. However, Li Liu-fang wetted the paper first and applied ink on wet paper. This is similar to wet-on-wet technique used in water colour painting. The ink diffuses on the surface of wet paper.

detail of the painting showing water accumulation on certain areas
Details of the painting showing water accumulation on certain areas

 

On the right hand side of the top of the water falls, water accumulates and bleeds onto the neighbouring brushstrokes. Sized rice paper can also give an excellent atmosphere of mist and fog. Sized rice paper is widely used for skilled and vivid works showing the dynamics of xiěyì (寫意).

Sized rice paper can be used by beginners and highly skilful artists as well.

Inscriptions :

床頭枕是溪中石,井底泉通竹下池。
宿客未眠過夜半,獨聞山雨到來時。

(唐)賈島詩 (779 – 843)

 

The rocks in the pool serves as pillows for the night :

The water from the well’s bottom trickles to the pond at the bamboos’ feet;

The guest has slept but half the night

When alone he hears the rain falling upon the hill.

By Jiǎ Dǎo (779 – 843) in the Tang Dynasty

 

 

Further readings:

Landscapes of the WANGS: Paintings by Wang Shimin, Wang Yuanqi and Loudong School from the Palace Museum and Shanghai Museum, (2011), Macau Museum of Art

Cahill, James (1960), Chinese Painting, Skira

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Shimin

http://baike.baidu.com/view/123800.htm

http://baike.baidu.com/view/756102.htm (‘mogu’ painting, 没骨法)

http://www.haoshici.com/Jiadao51909.html (唐)賈島詩

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jia_Dao (賈島)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Shan Shui (山水) Painting Tutorial 4

  1. Thanks kindly for the excellent description and the introduction of the different views and depth of all the paintings in your tutorial. Again, thanks for the rich source of your research material and the good analyse of the difference of the sized and unsized rice papers. It is a blessing that your painting and brushstrokes are so real and similar as Wang Shi-min’s. Congratulations.

    Liked by 1 person

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