Day 17: Hibiscus, Chinese Spontaneous Style

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Hibiscus flower (Chinese Watercolour)

Hibiscus flower (Chinese Watercolour)

Chinese Painting College resumes next Monday after the long summer break. It’s been a couple of months since we last met so I decided to get a bit of practice in before we have to report back. Here we have Hibiscus flowers, a subject we practised in November and one I really enjoyed.

I’ve been learning Chinese Painting for a year now and owe the results you see here to our teacher, Maurice, who patiently urges us to follow his examples and copy the strokes. It was a completely new way of learning for me, very disciplined: the colours are traditional, the subjects are set by the seasons, the master demonstrates and we copy… however, I have to say it produces results, a bit like learning scales before you’re able to play music.

I had an idea that these skills might help with my watercolour painting as well, which I’d neglected until starting this challenge, but it’s so completely different it’s hard to imagine. The Chinese paper is so absorbent that ink sucks straight into it: when a stroke is made there’s no changing it, your first stroke must be your best. On the other hand with watercolour paper paint just pools on the surface, you can push it around, add more colour or water and you must wait for it to dry to discover what the final effect is.

Where I have found a benefit is with brush handling. Chinese painting teaches you to plan each stroke and execute it confidently, you have to mix your ink carefully and even consider how it’s applied to the brush to achieve the desired effect. I’m still trying to guess what the effect will be from any particular watercolour decision, but at least I’m beginning to appreciate the benefits of forward planning and repetition from my Chinese lessons.