What Makes A Painting Work Art Blog
Western Art presents plentiful examples of excellent use of black and white: ink drawings by PIcasso, photos by Ansel Adams, the best of the motion pictures' early decades are but a few examples. It is in Chinese and Japanese Brush painting that the varying shades of black or gray are actually called colors. The classic paintings of China and Japan range from simple bamboo shoots to complex landscapes. What they have in common is the power of color within the blue black or brown black that is used. We see this also in modern masters such as Xu Beihong whose horses I particularly admire http://www.xubeihong.org/
In working with the ink I love the subtle shades made possible depending on the amount of water in the ink and in the brush. Rice paper and silk, traditionally used for brush painting, are thirsty surfaces. Practice, test the flow from the brush on a "scratch" sheet, because you must paint quickly or lose control. Working in monochromatic shades is excellent for developing a sense of value in painting--without it one loses all detail in such a work. The composition itself will demand balance because the negative spaces are so clearly seen in white, and it becomes instantly obvious in a piece is too centered or too repetitive.
There are specific concerns with the colors in the painting of plum trees and plum blossoms as I've done here. Old bark is usually lighter colored than new growth. it is also rougher. The young growth is darker and smoother. Plum blossoms require light ink and may be done in outline to use the white of the paper. Variations in ink color help tell the story of age and scars from disease or injury in the older growth.
I used darker ink in the stump behind the vigorous tree. There were two reasons for that. One is that bark around the base of a tree is often darkened by the damp along the ground. Notice the grasses to help make this point. Plum tree in the language of brush painting represents winter and with it age, but also the promise of spring and continuation in the shoots and blossoms. My tree stump carries this to extreme, we have a fallen tree with that little blossom promising hope for the future. And enter the other reason for the dark ink on the right side of the tree trunk. Painting is about problem solving--either in how to represent the world and our abstraction of it, or how to fix the problems we create in the process. I had a boo-boo because I left a brush in place too long on that thirsty paper when I was attempting to make a cat looking up at that little bird in the plum tree. This mistake led me into a solution that strengthened the age-and-renewal theme. The blob of ink from the cat gone wrong became part of the colors that represent the rough old bark in the stump.