I am writing this blog post as soon as I get home from a wonderful day at The Chase Hotel in Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire, UK, about 10 miles from where I live. A few months back a friend and I visited the Cathedral in Hereford, Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin and St Ethelbert the King – I just love the full title of our Cathedral it is such a mouthful! For those Harry Potter fans, our Cathedral is home to the Mappi Mundi the oldest map of the world in which the names of Hogwarts ‘houses’ are seen as well as the ‘original’ chained library: it is said that JK Rowling paid a visit to our cathedral as a child and the inspiration seed for her later fame was sown.. so.. a few months back there was an exhibition of local artists in the Judges Quarters, part of the Cathedral and amongst the exhibitors was Katrina Stephens a painter of Chinese styled work who was advertising workshops. My friend and I agreed to have a go and our day was today, 10th August.
Arriving at the hotel with a towel and cushion – items we were told to bring – some old watercolours and ready to try to something new I was giving an ink block and a ‘palette’ and some brushes. The big one and the little one are wolf hair, the middle one is a much softer hair and I forget which animal it was as I fell in love immediately with the strong wolf hair bristles.
The paper is so thin and you can just feel that one side is shiny and the other side is slightly toothed. We used the shiny side – the toothed side works well with animal paintings as it bleeds the ink more to create the fur effect. This paper is grass paper. All Chinese papers are handmade, I used two different ones, grass paper and bark. I prefer the grass paper which is a beginner paper and doesn’t let the ink bleed out too much. Easier to control!
The first ‘task’ we were given was to learn the one of the ‘Old gentleman strokes’. There are four in Chinese painting, bamboo, chrysathemum, cherry blossom and orchid. We did the bamboo. After grinding our ink we had to load the brush and using it in various ways, the side and the point you can create the ‘flicks’ or ‘marks’. I found holding the brush very simple as it is the same way you hold a glass rod, not like a watercolour brush at all so this was a natural hold for me, loading the brush correctly to get the tones with the ink was completely another matter.
From bamboo we advanced on to minnows, using the same technique as the bamboo leaves but adding eyes and whiskers with the small brush – I loved this brush so much I was allowed to buy it! although I did get in trouble later in the day for using it in place of a big brush. The ‘background’ of the painting is done last, on the back of the paper. Everything is in reverse! Even the marks made that are behind something are made after the ‘something’, to a watercolourist I imagine this is very confusing but to me it made perfect sense, I do everything backwards anyway!
Once dried this actually came out much better, but the blue was still a little to intense. I was using some old watercolours that I had taken with me to get the colour, but in Chinese painting it should all be in ink.
My final painting – ok so I did elephants inbetween but they were a complete disaster, by the elephants I was over loading my brush and it was just not going right but I did learn a lot about the brush and how much I loved them, so I brought myself a big new one, wolf hair of course and was lucky enough to be allowed to purchase my ‘trainer’ brush the little one.
So my ‘last’ painting was the hummingbird and the lotus. This was hard, there is no drawing it with pencil first you go straight in with the brush fully loaded, the ink needs to be the right tone, the flow just right and on this paper, the bark one, the ink ran like crazy but over all I was really pleased with how it came out and that it looked like the teachers… well almost!
At the end of the day, a lunch stop several cups of tea and lots of concentration my desk looked like this….
That ‘was’ my elephant painting but I just had fun with the brush instead. The brushes make some amazing marks and I am eager to experiment with my Inktense pencils and them. Would I take up the technique in its purest form? No, painting is most definitely not for me, I love my pencils and my glass and I love all things whimsical, I was itching to paint a cat or a bird with bright plumes and funny eyes. I have brought home some of the paper but again that is rather thin and an experience to work with! I love how the technique teaches you to do one stroke to capture the essence of a subject and the masters of the craft are true masters to never have to rub anything out! But over all I really did enjoy my day and the experience. Do check out Katrina’s website – www.maistra.co.uk
I am just off to soak my new brush in water to remove the glue so I can have a play later……