Thursday, 16 March 2017

Sumi-e Painting of Clover Leaf Using "Luck" Calligraphy

In this short Youtube video I am showing my process of Sumi-e painting of four leaf clover, using Chinese/Japanese calligraphic character of “Luck”.

If creating in this style/spirit inspires you, I invite you to visit my website and follow me. I will send you a detailed video with the explanations and directions.


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

How Important is Meditation in Sumi-e Painting?

A modern upbringing, regardless if it is of Western or Eastern origin, is heavily outcome oriented. When we start any endeavour, regardless of what it is, we already envision and strive for a specific product/result. This applies to creating art as well. There are countless art books and lessons, teaching the techniques for achieving a specific goal.

In Sumi-e as in all Zen-inspired arts, there is a dichotomy. In Zen arts, like in any art creation process, intensive practice is required by the artist, but the self, the logical conscious control of the artist, is not encouraged. If the intellect gets involved, then due to the mind's discriminative thinking, the painting becomes nothing more than a watercolour painting. One needs the physical proficiency but must be able to go beyond the confines of the intellect to paint in Sumi-e in Zen style and spirit.

So how does one go beyond the habitual discerning thinking?

Have you noticed how when faced with challenges, one's mind goes super active? One needs to develop the skill, the technique and the practical aspects of painting so that it becomes effortless and thus easier to take the mind out of the process. Next but most importantly, one needs to find a way of going beyond the intellectual self.

Each individual is different in their ability to “disconnect”. It all depends on the individual's familiarity with their own space of mindfulness. Artists tend to call it being “in the zone”. While in the zone, one has a heightened sense of perception and awareness which are the faculties most important for Sumi-e painting.

There are various tools included in my “Breathing Brush” course* which will help you achieve the meditative state. One of them is following the guided meditation provided. Another tool for meditation is grounding the ink; the process of grinding the ink stick on the ink stone with mindfulness. The repetitive stroke creation with the breath and the body are also a means of meditation. With practice, meditation will become intuitive every time one picks up the brush to paint.

The focus or purpose of Sumi-e/Zen painting is not the outcome but the process of creating while in the state of heightened intuition and of sensory awareness. Being in a meditative state is the only way of tapping into one's unrestricted spontaneity and creativity. The painting which is the outcome of this practice is a by-product only. This is something that is hard for the mind to conceive. If one is more mindful and less preoccupied with the depiction, the result (the by-product) will surprise with its vibrancy and its transcendental quality.

*The course will be published very soon. Follow my blog or my website to get notified.

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.