Sumi-e paintings of lotus leaves are often executed in strong black ink, but there is a delicious floaty quality to Chinese brush paintings using a combination of indigo blue and yellow, and just a tip of black ink for emphasis. In this case, I used Yasutomo Chinese Watercolors in tubes. The colors are very vibrant, even after they dry, and because they are Chinese watercolors, they will not run on the paper when re-wetted. The paper is thin, raw "xuan" or rice paper. Notice the strong triangles formed by the leaves, the birds and the flower. The triangle is a classical element in Asian compositions. The red chop or seal on the left is called a "mood seal" and reads "the brush dances and the ink sings". The two chops below my Chinese signature on the right are "Wei Jen", my Chinese art name, and an oval cartouche with my Western initials.
You can learn how to paint lotus and kingfishers in my book "Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting" published by Quarto and available worldwide. See step by step illustrations and useful tips in this popular book.
Want to try my sumi-e painting of "Birds & Blossoms"? Here are some tips on how to create your own masterpiece. Don't be dismayed if yours turns out differently from mine. Sumi-e and Chinese brush paintings come alive through the energy of the brush strokes, and every artist's strokes are unique.
Practice! Once you have studied the step-by-step elements and practiced with the video segments, the composition will come together easily for you. Think of it as an adventure! You'll find the link to the full video at the end of this post.
Materials: I am using thin raw xuan ("rice") paper, but you can use double raw xuan if you prefer. (Recommended Chinese paper suppliers.) Sized Asian paper or Western watercolor paper will not give you the effects you need to create this xie-yi ("paint the idea" or "spontaneous style") painting. I am using two sumi-e brushes: a small, mixed bristle brush with a good point for the birds, the veins and the flower stamens, and a larger, fatter, mixed bristle brush (it could be all soft or hard bristle, depending on your preference) for the petals and leaves. (Recommended Chinese brush suppliers.)
Load your brush with strong black ink and start with the beak and eye of both birds. This establishes their relationship and will give you some ideas for the bodies (facing front, facing back, body higher, body lower, etc). This is a simple Chinese sitting bird composition. I am using a small mixed bristle brush with a good point. Hold the brush upright for the beak and eye, and at a slant for the wings and belly. Add the feet when the branch is dry. You can learn more about painting birds in my book "Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting" published by Quarto. Watch the birds here:
Load yellow, light orange and dark orange on to a bigger brush, or choose a color combination of your choice. You can use a soft bristle or a hard bristle brush, or a combination brush. My blossoms are very loose; I wanted a cheerful mass of color rather than detail. Watch the blossoms here:
Leaves and Branches
My leaf color is a mixture of phthalo blue with a little yellow and black. Indigo blue would work well too. I deliberately vary the shades and intensity. I use mostly the side of the brush for the leaves and the point of the brush for the branches. I let my brush dance in a carefree way, but notice how the leaves on the right half of the paper mostly face to the right and the ones on the left face to the left. They are following the direction of the branches. The leaves are in groups, not scattered. Watch the leaves here:
The veins are fun! Hold the small brush upright and let it dance! Pause at the beginning of the stroke and keep the energy going to the end of the stroke. The curve of the strokes will bring out the roundness of the leaves. Use black for the veins on the darker leaves and grey-blue on the lighter leaves. Watch the veins first up to speed and then on the last leaf in slow motion. Notice how casual my brush is! I am aiming for energy more than accuracy. This is what brings the veins to life.
The Veins painted up to speed:
The Veins played back in slow motion
The Bird Feet
Sumi-e and Chinese brush paintings often exaggerate the size of the bird's beak, eyes and feet. This adds character and personality to the bird. You can add the feet over the painted branch, or you can paint the feet first and then add the branch. Notice the direction the toes curve in, which further helps to show the angle of the bird's body and emphasize the roundness of the branch. Use the same brush you used for the beaks. Watch the feet here:
Watch the complete video
When you have practiced the elements and are ready to put the composition together, watch the full video on my YouTube channel to see how the composition comes together. You can also find more flower and bird help in earlier blog posts and in my galleries. Check the side bar for subjects. My book, "Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting" can help you with flowers, leaves and birds, showing you step by step illustrations and providing helpful tips.
Good luck and happy painting! If you have questions and comments, please let me know. I love to hear from you and I'm always happy to help. You can find more of my paintings and projects on Facebook and over 300 illustrations in my book.
Save the date!
Virginia’s Book Launch Party, Friday, December 13, 2019!
Come help me launch my new book “Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting” at Books & Co on Nelson Street, Lexington, VA Friday, December 13, 5-7 p.m. We will have demonstrations, hands-on ‘brush and paper’ tables set up, book signings, art cards and of course REFRESHMENTS! You can reserve your copy of the book in advance through the store - just drop by or call (540) 464-8697 to place your order. Please join me for a fun event! If you can't make it to the event but would like an autographed copy, order through Books & Co and I will sign it and personalize it and you can pick it up later or have it shipped to you.
"Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting" will be published worldwide on December 3, 2019. Here's a 28-second video showing you a sampling of the 128 pages. I created over 300 images for the book, and it is chock-full of step-by-step illustrations, creative tips and prompts. I include detailed instructions on how to paint many favorite subjects and information on paper, brushes, ink and colors. You can read more in my blog posts on materials here and here.
The book is available online worldwide through Walter Foster/Quarto Publishing Group, or direct from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million. (These are the internet links for the U.S.) If you are in another country, you can go to your country's website for Amazon, etc and put in the name of the book. Or you can support your local bookstore by ordering it through a retail outlet.
At $19.99 it makes a great Christmas present!
My videos show up in wonderful places! Sensei William Reed, a long-time bilingual resident of Japan, teaches brush calligraphy at the International College of Liberal Arts in Yamanashi Gakuin University near Mt Fuji. He recently used my Bamboo video as a teaching tool.
Reed's students show great attention and mindfulness as they practice. They found it harder than expected to get the strokes right, but stayed well focused.
I have exciting news! In February, I was approached by Walter Foster Publishing to write and illustrate a book entitled: “Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting”. Both subjects are very close to my heart, since being focused in the moment is essential for channeling the power and vitality of Asian brush painting. I weave the concept of mindful attention into my explanations on how to paint some of our favorite subjects, such as the Four Gentlemen (bamboo, orchid, plum, chrysanthemum) and iris, peonies, wisteria, grapes, bugs and birds. The idea is to demonstrate through step-by-step illustrations how to create paintings, but also how to use the practice and discipline of the painting techniques to focus the mind.
This 128-page book will be available December 3, just in time for the Christmas market. Here are a couple of illustrations I have created for the book. There will be over 300 pictures, some in elegant black ink and others in full color, so the book will appeal to painters, philosophers and art lovers alike! You can pre-order the book now, either online or at your local bookstore. Visit https://quartokno.ws/MindfulArtistSumie for more information and for links to purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more.
Splashing happily in the ink here!
Frogs are hopping out of my sumi-e brush these days, becoming more energetic by the minute. Here's a sampling of the last few years of frogs. Some are whimsical and some are wicked. Some were painted in a moment of exuberance, and some brought me comfort when I was sick. Painting's like that.
My most recent frog. She looks a little shy!
I practice a lot, filling up sheets of rice paper. A lot get thrown out, but then sometimes, they are just too much fun to jettison!
Here's a sneak peek at what you'll find in my new book, "Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting". You can order it from your local bookstore or through Amazon or through the publisher Walter Foster Books/Quarto Creates. Publication date is December 3, 2019. The e-book version will be released at the same time as the hard copy. I hope you're as excited as I am! I can hardly wait!
How to paint grapes is one of the fourteen chapters of my sumi-e how-to book.. You can pre-order "Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting" at https://quartokno.ws/MindfulArtistSumie or on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2XG2Elf
The book will be out December 3, 2019 - get ahead of the queue by pre-ordering!
This colorful birdie jumped out of the brush at the top of a rather uninspired bamboo painting. With a little sneaky cropping, I saved the good part! Never underestimate the power of cropping: If you are unhappy with a painting and don't know why, try masking off one of the sides and see if that improves the composition. Sometimes we hate to let go of a favorite element ("look what a wonderful rock I created here!"), but by trimming that bit off, the picture suddenly makes better sense.
Tip: don't cut it off until you're absolutely certain!