Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Why Use Calligraphic Strokes For Sumi-e Painting?

Since I published my course “Sumi-e Painting  of a Rooster Using Its Calligraphy” I have been getting quite a few comments and questions about the idea of using the calligraphic language to paint. It is somehow viewed as an unusual way of painting when actually, it is the most proper way of painting Oriental art.

This is what I was talking about in my previous two blog posts. I will explain again from a different angle and maybe it will be better understood.

I am talking here about the old, traditional way of Chinese painting. You see, at that time, the only tool for writing and painting was the brush. They would not write their “letters” but they would paint them, as they were not writing phonetic sounds but they were painting the images of their words. Imagine, this was the only way of expression that they knew. When they were painting their images, they were using that language, the language of calligraphy. This language had a certain flow and order to it and was applied to both writing and painting. Again, that's the only way they knew how to write and paint

Around 500 AD, the Japanese adopted the Chinese Characters, as they didn't have a writing system yet. They had to modify these characters to apply to their own (different) language. These “imported” Chinese characters are called Kanji. The way of writing and painting became theirs as well and it evolved further.

Now it is coming to us, not only to the Westerners but to the Easterners as well. Eastern art more and more is starting to have a Western flavour. One of the reasons is that less and less calligraphy is done with the brush and so the flow is not developed in writing or in painting. Slowly the description takes over the essence of the subject matter, as in Western art. Oriental painting is now taught not as a derivative of calligraphy, but as a series of patterns and shapes to be copied by the student.

My teacher Tomoko Kodama realised this limitation and developed a method to teach Westerners to paint using calligraphy. She started to teach painting by applying the Roman alphabet and slowly introduced the Kanji calligraphy, to be applied in paintings as well.

So coming back to the main issue here: The proper way of painting Sumi-e (Oriental Brush Painting) is by using calligraphic strokes, calligraphic flow and energy.

There are many more advantages to working this way. I will show and explain more in my upcoming classes. You will understand even better when you practice it. We are aiming for the experiential understanding.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

"Sumi-e Painting of a Rooster Using Its Calligraphy" A Free Course

As it is the Chinese New Year of the Rooster as of January 28th, I have put the work on my main course on hold and created a free crash course to give an overview, an idea of the method that I teach and I use in my own paintings.
In this course, I show how to paint /write the Chinese calligraphy of the Rooster and how to apply it in making your own Rooster Sumi-e painting. You will get a taste of a method which facilitates the ability to find your own voice and language of expression, rather than copying patterns and shapes, which unfortunately is the common practice in the teaching of oriental painting.
In the scope of this course, it is of course impossible to cover and learn all the faculties needed to fully apply the method, but I think you will get a taste of it and even come up with your own Rooster painting. Just remember to enjoy the experience….. just play with the brush and lose yourself in the dance of the calligraphic lines.
In my upcoming Sumi-e classes, I will be teaching in detail and depth, the technical, meditative and other aspects involved in Sumi-e painting, using calligraphic principles and strokes.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Learning To Paint Sumi-e

As I have explained in my previous two posts, we Westerners need to develop few skills that  Eastern artists have in them traditionally. To understand this post better, I would recommend you to read them prior to reading this.
If you haven't read them already the links are below:

Here are the three essential abilities one needs to develop in learning to paint in Sumi-e style:

1. The use of the brush. Unlike the Western brushes, the traditional Chinese brushes are shaped differently and unlike the Western handling, are held vertically to the paper and the wrist is not involved in creating the image….

2. The use of the calligraphic strokes for painting. In the East, the strokes in calligraphic writing and painting are similar. The painting and especially of the four familiar motives: cherry blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum (traditionally called the “Four Gentlemen”), contain the strokes, the flow, the execution and the principals of calligraphic writing.

3. The rhythm which in the East gets learned and developed from the childhood with the use of the brush, calligraphy and by a repetitive painting of traditional motives and copying the masters.

To develop the sense of the rhythm; the flow of Oriental painting, my late Sumi-e  teacher Tomoko Kodama introduced a particular breathing pattern into the painting process. She also taught initially the Oriental calligraphic principles by applying them to the Roman alphabet....
I apply many of her teachings in my classes.

I pay particular attention to helping the students to find, feel and connect to the belly (Hara, Japanese, Dantian in Chinese), as it is the seat of the vital energy and intuition. 

I teach to paint living (breathing) calligraphic strokes and how to apply them in paintings or in the art of Japanese calligraphy; “Shodo”.

Sumi-e is an art form where our aim is not to show the detail of the subject matter, but to show the essence, the spirit of it. I help the student to see… to see the subject matter as if seen for the first time. I have addressed this in one of my older blog posts Seeing With the Senses  I guide the student to learn to take the self/the intellectual mind out of the way to be able to create intuitively.

All those acquired technical and most importantly experiential skills and understandings will help not only to create dynamic traditional Oriental paintings but also to apply to any other form of art creation. I think I will address that in my next post. 

You must have questions after having read this. Please post them. I will make sure to answer them and/or demonstrate in my classes.

Well... back to work... Indeed a great challenge, but very enjoyable. And please follow my blog for updates.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Western Path to Learning Sumi-e Painting (part 2)

In my previous post, I addressed the obstacles the Westerners face in learning to paint in Sumi-e style. Before getting into describing the method I teach, I have to share some background information that served as the catalyst for my teaching method.

As I have mentioned before on various occasions, throughout my life and my Western art education, I have searched for the simplicity…. , not for the easiness, but for that essential that runs behind everything we see and experience; The quiet, yet powerful presence that is in everything around us. Without knowing about Sumi-e and Zen for that matter, I used to dream of being able to communicate in my art what I felt with just  a few lines, strokes.... suggestions. Initially, I pursued my dream in my drawings. Through my drawings I discovered what it meant to see without labeling, to draw the experience and only the experience…. to see the subject matter as part of the surrounding; in harmony and one with it….I caught glimpses of Zen …. 

It is in these searches that I discovered my late teacher Tomoko Kodama, a visionary lady from Japan who wanted to share/teach the art of creating in Sumi-e style with/to us Westerners. By realizing the cultural differences (some of which I have addressed in my previous post), she developed a unique technique to facilitate Westerners in learning of this profound art form. Later I came to realize that his technique can be beneficial to students with Eastern background as well…. most likely because of the culture's increasing Westernization.

With her limited English Mrs Kodama taught the technique, showed what worked in our paintings and allowed for those of us who persisted in practice, to understand/experience what Zen art is, without ever mentioning its name. When  I showed her my drawings, I was  honoured by her comments calling them “Sumi-e drawings”.

So in the base of my teaching is her method which has evolved through my practice, insights and deepening of interests in Taoist and Zen Buddhist philosophies. I must say that my Tai Chi practice as well deepened the understanding…… All is a play of movement and stillness…. Always changing

......It looks like I am going to keep you in suspense again, but I thought it would be helpful to understand the background of my method that I will be using in my upcoming online classes. I will be able to go deeper in my next post.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Western Path to Learning Sumi-e Painting (part 1)

The art of painting and writing In China which was later adopted by Japan, Korea and Vietnam, developed together.The main reason was that calligraphic characters themselves were paintings/pictures/ideograms. So from childhood, one would learn to write characters that originally represented images. To write…. actually, to paint (because the tool for writing traditionally is a brush) these characters requires learning the use the brush and the ink and also the strokes that compose them.

We see often four main subjects in oriental paintings. These are Cherry tree with blossoms, Orchid, a particular orchid that grows in the East, Bamboo and Chrysanthemum. Besides representing the four seasons, four elements and special gentlemen-like attributes, painting those subjects one would also need to use the strokes used in the calligraphy itself.... As you can see there is a very fine line between oriental painting and writing.

In the East, learning to paint was primarily done by repetitive copying the masters. Having already had a good knowledge of using the ink and the brush. By copying the masters, the student would not only learn the composition and structure but also attempt to understand and the state of the mind and the spirit of the master.

Through this repetitive copying, the student/artist would develop also a special kind of a flow/rhythm of painting and writing. This rhythm reflects in their artistic expression and can be observed in the successful paintings, as every element of the painting work in harmoniously together.

Now as a Westerner, without the background experience of the brush and ink writing, the aesthetics, and cultural background, how do we learn to paint in Sumi-e style and spirit? How can the Western student learn this, without the experiential knowledge of the strokes, the images, the subject matter….and I must emphasise also, without understanding the Eastern philosophical principals.

All the available classes and the books on teaching Sumi-e mainly focus on showing how to paint the patterns of these subjects. Most of the Sumi-e teachers have the Oriental background.Many do have that deep knowledge of the ink, the line and the rhythm inherently, but how can they actually transmit this to those from the totally different cultural background? As for the Western teachers of Sumi-e, many of them use the brush and the ink like watercolours, resulting in black watercolour paintings of oriental motives….

I will be taking from here in my next blog post, where I will be describing the method I use and will be using to teach in my upcoming online classes. 

Follow my blog to receive the update....Meanwhile, I invite you, if you haven't done that already, to visit my website.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Why Do I Paint Sumi-e

As promised in my previous blog post, I am sharing my thoughts on why I like painting in Sumi-e style and spirit. I could write a book on this and no matter what I say, I will not do justice to it.

To keep it simple, throughout the years of art schooling at Concordia University and studying the Master's works, most of the time I felt overwhelmed by the profusion of information depicted in them… all those colours, lines, nuances, details.... Of course I admired the skillfulness and the mastery of the artist, but personally, most of the time much more enjoyed the viridity of the sketches and studies the Masters created for practice or for use in their composition of the final paintings. Those sketches are fresh and alive. They carry the energy and the mood of the subject…. all is there for the experience, nothing more is needed…. for me.

I think when we look at a painting and if the artist is successful, what we notice at first is that energy, the essential. In my opinion, the painting is successful when the Master succeeds to transmit that essential energy in his/her artwork. Unfortunately often that energy ends up being lost in the extensive and sometimes (for me) excessive information and description. Of course, I am not underestimating the skill and the mastery of these “excesses”.

I have felt that there is excess not only in art but in life as well. So, I have searched for ways of drawing or painting that shows what is the inherent essence of the subject matter. As, in my life, I sought for the essential in life's chatter and excessive detail.

Sumi-e and its supporting philosophies gave me the inner understanding, the ability to see beyond the detail and the language to communicate that. Through Sumi-e painting, I have not only found access to the subtle world around me but most importantly, within. For me, Sumi-e is not a technique, a way of creating an artwork but a way of living.

In my classes, and in upcoming online  classes, I aim to teach the art of painting and the art of living Sumi-e......