In July I'll return again to a Bennington summer art residency and work for a couple of weeks at landscape and portraiture along with nightly doses of watercolor figure painting. I anticipate that those experiences will launch me into my new daily life as a painter. The tease of painting all day, every day during recent school vacation weeks has shown me that I can easily lose myself in a morning and afternoon (and night) of painting, so I'm not concerned that I'll ever be bored. I also know that I have hundreds of paintings completed in my head, just waiting to make their way onto 140# cold pressed paper or canvases.
About five weeks ago I began a ten-week Chinese watercolor painting class in Newton with Ma Qingxiong at the Chinese Cultural Center. All of a sudden I've found myself on a vastly different cultural and artistic adventure using brushes and paper that respond very differently...rice paper and Chinese mop brushes are polar opposites from my WN Series 7s and D'Arches papers. My usual plein-air style, or painting directly from the model, is quite unlike the traditional methods of Chinese painting.
The class is pretty much taught in Chinese, although there is enough English spoken that I don't feel completely out of the loop. There are nine Chinese women, the instructor (his web page: www.maqingxiong.com is worth a good long look), and me. It's a friendly group that's welcomed me. And, the language barrier's not so much of a problem. Over the course of the night, Mr. Ma gathers his pupils for a series of demonstrations. One of this teacher's best techniques when he speaks in English is his use of metaphor, comparing painting and poetry, painting to music, and painting to literature. Those language-based comparisons, combined with concise visual demos, are aimed directly at my learning style.
Coupled with his instruction are clear and colorful photographs. On night one we gathered around Mr. Ma's table for our first set of directives. As he began his explanation, two of my classmates produced cameras and began taking snapshots of the teacher as he worked with his palettes (small white saucers), brushes and paper. After a few minutes, the quick demonstration painting was hung on the white board at the front of the class with four magnets. Another couple of photos were taken. This procedure accompanied each of the teacher's demonstrations that night. During the second demonstration, Irene, one of my classmates, whispered to me, "Be sure I have your e-mail address. I will send you the photos." A couple of days later I received the e-mail. There were three pages of a Word document, each page with five or six color images from the instruction, showing clearly from start to finish the entire evening's instruction. What a wonderful learning technique! (And here I am completing my thirty-sixth year as an educator never having thought of such a thing.)
What else have I learned? So far, plenty...but I think for now I'll incorporate that knowledge into future blogs when I know better how it's going to impact my day to day work. I don't think I'll change from western watercolor paper to rice paper, but I will, for sure, and have already, begun to use my brushes differently and even begun to use the mop brushes for quicker washes on the full-sized sheets I'm now using.
...and today's quote (which makes me feel very energized)...
There's no retirement for an artist, it's your way of living so there's no end to it.
- Henry Moore