Saturday, December 2, 2023

It sank; "Necessity is the mother of invention"

This blog doesn't have much to do with my paintings per se, but rather to document of how to mitigate a problem that shouldn't have happened in the first place. 

The 2 pieces of paintings of dancing movements, which I had mounted in a float presentation are ready to be on public display.

I had alluded to my various attempts to try to circumvent the visibility issue of the hanging wires and finally settled on using clear fishing lines, hoping that nobody would notice them, or at least not mind.

Well, I was wrong, and I am wrong.

The curator takes one scan, just a glancing look, and says "Those lines got to go."

"So I have 2 D-rings on the back of the frame, perhaps you can use 2 wires to suspend the frame?"




"Why not?"

Perhaps the curator is thinking of the hammered in sawtooth clips to have such reservations about sawtooth hooks.  Whatever the reason, this is almost universal now for art venues to demand that accepted pieces must be ready to hang, and no sawtooth hangers are allowed.  Along with no Styrofoam peanuts as packing material.  

I can sympathize with the nuisance of dealing with styrofoam peanuts, I've chased a few errant peanuts myself, but there are sawtooth hangers that are screwed-in, and they should be as sturdy as D-rings, especially if the correct weight rating is adhered to.  But, what do I know.  I'm only guessing.  

So I try to enlighten myself on the internet and see if I can find pertinent information regarding what ready to hang means.

"Ready to hang means that artworks must arrive with a suitable hanging system attached. This includes fixings such as “D” rings with cord or picture wire strung between."

My mission, should I accept it, is to fashion a device that is sturdy enough to hang my float and is hidden from the front view.

I am trying to make my hanging "hook" out of the existing D-rings.  Perhaps this is one way to associate my homemade hook with the well accepted D-ring, so there is no second-guessing. 

I am using two tabs to latch onto the "D" ring itself, such that it is kept secured and locked in at the center position.  I am bending the "D" ring at the vertical midline to make room for the hanging hook.
For all this to line up in a geometrically correct position, I am crimping one of the attachment tabs to accommodate the round side of the "D".

I am making a note of the center of the frame.  This is where I am going to locate my homemade "hook".

After careful positioning of the tabs, screws from the original D-rings are used to secure the homemade attachment contraption. 

No more visible hanging wires!

I am now using a smaller hanging hook on the wall, such that the hook itself is hidden from view.

I must admit, this is a cleaner and more professional look!

The takeaway from this experience is that I should have known better.  Despite my efforts of trying to make the float paintings "float", I was still cutting corners by using fishing wires as hanging wires.  Obviously the only person fooled was myself!

It takes a third party, someone who can decide on the fate of these two floats, to object to the fishing lines to nudge me to not accept anything that is less than "acceptable".  I've come to appreciate the saying "necessity is the mother of invention" even more.

Thank you, curator!

Friday, December 1, 2023

Will it float?

It is time to frame my two pieces of gesture paintings.  These are paintings done on thin, delicate, translucent Xuan paper so I really to to present them in a float format.  And I have just the frames for them.  Perfect.

But then I become concerned about the steel hanging wires being visible through the clear border of the float piece.  The wires would be very distracting, taking away the ambience I am trying to attain.

Perhaps I can compromise by attaching the painting to a similarly thin piece of translucent Xuan paper, such that the paper would obscure the hanging wires, and the translucent paper will still give off the air of a float piece?  Semi-float piece?

Without thinking it through, I trim off a piece of the translucent Xuan paper the size of the glass and attach the painting to it.  I am using a hobby heating iron used to attach skins to model airplanes to smooth out the wrinkles and creases on the paper.

 I meticulously cleaned my glass with denatured alcohol and microfiber wipes.  

Only to see this when the painting is sandwiched between the two panes of glass.

There are visible wrinkles forming on the translucent Xuan paper!  The paper is too thin and delicate to withstand the clamping of the cover glass.  A heavier piece of paper or cardboard would have definitely solved this problem, but I won't be getting my float or semi-float presentation.

I should have known better.  Years ago I committed the same mistake, but the excuse then was I was short on time, and not at a place where I would have resources to mitigate the problem.

I've seen the same snafu at the office lobby of our local Chinese/Asian attraction.  They displayed a piece of un-mounted Chinese painting sandwiched between 2 pieces of glass and it was awful.  My grandma had smoother skin than that piece of paper.  This is not an acceptable way to present Chinese works of art or culture.  

Obviously I cannot bear to see wrinkles on my own piece of work.  I should have thought it through more thoroughly.  

Back to square one, a real float it shall be.  I shall use clear fishing line for hanging wire and hope that it is not too visible, especially if the lighting is done right.

Now that I have the two pieces displayed side by side, I think they might work as a diptych?

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Rat and Baby Ox

I have done a rat painting before for the Year of the Rat.  I had a rat climbing over a red square Fai Chun with the Chinese word "Blessings" written on it.  Obviously the tone was to show the coming year as an auspicious one because the person in charge, the Rat, has found blessings.  My emphasis was also on the posing of the rat, being cute and all that, finding a ledge to clamber onto the piece of paper with writing on it.  

For this family zodiac project, I am hoping to pose my Rat in an appealing light; smart and inquisitive.  My rat is not going to be timid or secretive.  My rat is poised to explore, to sniff out the surroundings; showing confidence and ready to accept a caressing on the head.  Definitely not something you want to vilify.  Perhaps I am reminiscing about the white mice that my son kept when he was little.  

Painting this rat is pretty straight forward.  I am roughing in a general shape of the animal, paying attention to where I want the eye to be at.  They say the eyes are the windows to a person's soul, the same applies to the rat.  If I can paint the eyes successfully, then nothing else matters.

Using pink to denote the ears and the digits and the nose helps to give reference to the different body parts.  Small dabs of Chinese White bring out the highlighted areas.  Once the mouth is defined, I have the posture of my rat nailed.

Filling in the eye and adjusting for dark values make my rat more "real"?

Putting on whiskers and starting to grow hair on the body of my rodent.

A tiny dab of white becomes the catchlight on the eyeball, and makes all the difference to the spirit of the animal.  It really feels alive now.

Moving on to the next featured character in this project, the baby ox.  I am going to model my ox with the head turned back, to give it movement.

I am lightly sketching out the animal with a pencil, delineating darker values with an ink brush along the way.  This helps me to form a better three dimensional picture of my subject.

I am going to color with my Tea color from a tube this time,  and not from my tea cup as I inadvertently did before. 

I am using Chinese White to help with the highlights again.  Just as I was abscessed with the sternocleidomastoid muscle of Rusalka when I painted her, I am intrigued by Achilles tendons of the ox and I am trying to document them.

My baby ox has a little attitude.  My ox has a tongue sticking out of the mouth.  Could be a playful gesture, could be a satisfying suckling.  Either way it adds interest to a otherwise stoic, academic interpretation of the zodiac animals. 

I am half-way there!

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Family Zodiac

I tried to do a painting each Lunar New Year using the Chinese zodiac animal as subjects.  A member of my extended family suggested that I compose a family zodiac animals for her family.  The work would be comprised of a Dragon, a Snake, A Rat, two Roosters ( a Rooster and a Hen) and an Ox.  Six animals in all.

I thought about it and demurred.  My reason being I didn't really know how to draw a dragon and I didn't know how to properly present a snake, especially one with a sense of character.  A wiggly line would not be good enough for me.  I didn't want to present them in a cartoonish fashion.

But that doesn't mean that my brain wasn't churning.  I've been running the images in the back of my head, mining for ideas.  More like mining for Bitcoins.  Before long, it would be the Year of the Dragon.  I should be done biding my time.

Then I serendipitously came across a doctrine, or a philosophy from I Ching.  It is said that Tai Chi produces 2 Instruments, and 2 Instruments produce 4 Images.  In Chinese 易 有太極、是生兩儀  兩儀生四象.   We associate Tai Chi as the very beginning, where the 2 Instruments (opposites or complementary parts; depending on your interpretation. Ying and Yang, Positive and Negative) are situated.  Out of this Tai Chi, comes forth 2 Instruments, and then 4 Images.  So that is 6 entities, exactly the number I need to compose my family Zodiac animals.  I mean, it all makes sense now, out of the union of a married couple, descendants and their descendants are born.  How zodiac and cosmic is that!

The couple in my painting would be a Dragon and a Snake. So they will represent the 2 Instruments in Tai Chi.

The only dragons that I know of are from comic books and movies.  Then I recall that China has the famous Nine-Dragon Wall which I was fortunate enough to have visited.  So I am going to borrow one of the dragons to be included in my painting.  To think that I was born and raised in Kowloon (Hong Kong), which literally means Nine Dragons, this has come full circle.  T.S. Eliot said "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal." I've also heard that lesser artists borrow, great artists steal, or something like that.  You get the gist. 

Now that we have settled the legitimacy of my Dragon, I am going to do something novel for the snake.

I am going to fashion my snake out of a gift wrap tie, something like a piece of pipe cleaner, something that I can smoothly bend.  My intention is to make the snake to appear like our last time "Loh" in cursive.  After all, this is about the Loh family.  I set up a mock painting design and place my snake in it to see if my scheme would work.

The Tai Chi in the mock-up is quite stereotypical of how one would imagine or associate with the term "Tai Chi".  The spirals are perhaps from me watching too many cosmos shows.  Perhaps all my blood relatives are bodies in this nebula that I am painting?

I am going to be painting on the gold color silk that I've recently acquired.  I trust the "silk" adds a certain auspicious quality and authenticity to my "Zodiac" painting, and the gold color is the color for my snake.  That means I won't be needing to color the snake?

I begin by sketching out lightly with pencil on the silk, the shape of the circle and the complementary parts of the black and white along with my snake.

I come to find out that coloring the snake would be easier than painting the markings of the snake.

I am trying to let the markings on the snake's skin to give reference to the different aspects of the body, whether it is ventral or dorsal or lateral.  I know this is subtle and one might not even notice it if this wasn't brought up, but the pedantic me feels better if I pay attention to these details.  I mean this looks a lot more natural than if all the markings are on the top side of the skin, not animating the twisting and turning of the snake.

I guess the real challenge is if the person to whom this painting is for, can elucidate the word "Loh" from the coiling of the snake.  I am giddy now, because I have planted a secret in my painting.  

The Dragon is going to sit on the black part of the Tai Chi thus I am using white color to sketch out its shape.

A good place to stop.  I need to think of the other 4 zodiac animals now and continue with my creation.

I do love my golden "Loh" snake!  It looks very alive!

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Mounting the Gazing painting 歲月人生

There's a chance the "Gazing out the window" painting might get accepted into an exhibition.  I can't put off mounting the painting any longer.

I'll be using the traditional wet mounting method.

The painting was done on the very fibrous "leather" Xuan, which as the name implies, is rather thick.  I choose it because of its texture and its resistance to rubbing.  I had anticipated a fair amount of repeated brushing and washing to get my dark tones but I lucked out.  It turned out to be rather straight forward, which was a pleasant surprise.  The heavier stock Xuan presents its own unique challenge for wet mounting.  It takes a while longer for the water to completely seep through and for the starch to spread evenly.

The best indication is to look at the back of the painting and see if the image from the painted side comes through totally or not.

When the water finally soaks through, the painting would appear to be painted on the back side, due to the color saturation.  All the fibers on the back become quite visible (against the black background in tis case) since they never made any contact with the brush during the painting process.  The paper is too thick to allow total saturation of the fibers to begin with, thus only the ones on the top side of the painting get the ink, blending in with the background.

Starch is now applied.

A piece of blank Xuan paper is now placed onto the face-down, starched panting.  The set of these two pieces of Xuan is now ready to be hung on a flat surface to dry.  The drying process takes out all the creases and flattens the painting, just as starched fabric.

The heavier stock fibrous "leather" Xuan can be quite stubborn and be a little uncooperative at this juncture.  This heavier, wet sheet has a stronger affinity for the piece of plexiglass where it sits on, than the flimsier, thinner backing Xuan that is on top.  Thus when one lifts the backing sheet off the plexiglass, the painting stays sucked to the plexiglass, instead of bonding with the backing, to be lifted as one piece. 

I have concocted a tool using a branch from my pear tree.

I whittle one end of the branch into a thin spatula.  The spatula is sanded smooth and sealed with a polymer finish to better withstand moisture.  The is used to gently lift the corner of the wet, starched painting off the plexiglass so that it can bond with the backing Xuan and be lifted as a single, bonded piece.

Now I can hang the starched painting with its backing on a flat surface to dry.

My newly mounted "Gazing out the window" painting.  Doesn't it look fresh off the press?  

I have made no attempts to hide the brushstrokes in achieving the eventual dark values.  One can easily see the different tonal streaks.  I do this with the intention of exploiting the dark and dilapidated look to contrast with the bright outside.  Adding more drama.


The painting is now ready.  All it needs is a frame.  And an invitation to exhibit.  

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Painting on silk again

My last encounter of painting on silk was fraught with plenty of obstacles.  I was being stubborn and tried to use silk fabric, instead of the "silk" that are sourced from art supply stores.  I had endured a lot of problems just trying to get the silk to take on coloring.  I ended up treating the fabric with copious amount of alum solution to get the job done.

I am older and wiser now, no less adventurous though.  I decide to try for silk again, this time on the "silk" that I can buy from art supplies.  I am still not convinced that this is real silk, because the material feels like nylon stocking or some sort of polyester. Anyways, it is what it is.  

Silk or silk brocade is used quite extensively for the more formal Gongbi style of Chinese brush.  I am not a Gongbi artist per se, but I do like to give it another try, using the motif from my "mosaic" pond painting.  This is perhaps the closest thing to Gongbi-esque painting that I could muster. I really don't enjoy being a fodder for the traditional Gongbi artist, so my preemptive apologies!

I had done a template for myself when I dabbled in my attempt to create a Gongbi-like painting with ducks on a pond.  I am resorting to that template again.

To keep things fresh, I shall do my new painting in a portrait format.  I am cropping the right hand portion of the template with the ducks in it.

I don't quite like the composition of this cropping.  I feel that the right side needs to have more of something.  The original set-up looks fine with the painting in the landscape format, but somehow feels lacking in the vertical sliver.  

Thus I shall be adding in some ripples or reflections.

I am also going to approach this project in an unconventional manner.  I am going to save the line drawing step for the last.  Again, my apologies.

Traditional Gongbi painting begins with the line drawing step.  The line drawing is either a supplied template or an original drawing devised by the artist.  The so-called line drawing is actually brushstrokes of calligraphy.  It has characteristics of full, thin, press and lift associated with writing with a round brush.  The artist then meticulously brushes in the color, often times alternating between a color brush and a water brush together for even and gradual spreading of color gradients. The process is repeated a number of times until the desired saturation, blending and appearance is reached.  Alum solution is often applied between the layers of color to prevent the previous layer from smudging, causing a "dirty" appearance.  Regardless of how saturated the color is, transparency is almost always valued.  Nothing is done in haste. 

In my case I am not dealing with delicate flower petals or shades of landscape.  Mine is just a kaleidoscope of specks of colors that does not require manipulation within each speck.  A simple mosaic.  I feel that my sins can be forgiven if I just apply the color without paying too much attention to how one color blends into another.  I also feel that I have more freedom if I just "marked" the locations of color instead of filling in a space with color.  I can be a little bit "hasty".  Just a little!

I use different colors for the rings of ripples, not only to enrich the palette, but also to account for the assorted colors of the objects that are reflected on the water.

I am adding in a whole much of nondescript ripples, what I would call "noise" to fill in the right side of the painting.  The part of the painting I deemed lacking.

After all my desired features are on the paper, I now write in the line drawing.

I brush on a thin layer of alum solution to the areas that I want to "tune-up" before I add on more or a different color.  

The finished product does look regal and pompous after framing.  This is the miracle delivered by painting on antique gold silk.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Face Up or Face Down?

To the uninitiated, Xuan paper is just a regular piece of white paper to be painted or written on.  The more astute observer would however notice a smooth side and a rough side.

Xuan paper is made from the pulp of plant fibers scooped up on a sieve and the sheets are deposited flat on heated rollers or steel walls to dry.  The side of the paper that faces the roller or wall is smooth, the other side is more fibrous, and therefore rougher.

Technically the smooth side is the "top" side but many artists prefer the rough side to paint on.  It has more "feel".  I can attest to that.  I also like the texture the bottom side provides.  

Printing paper on the other hand are less tolerant if the "wrong" side is used.  I have wasted so much inkjet color by loading my print paper the wrong way.  It is especially easy to do if I was printing on matte photopaper.  The two sides are almost indistinguishable, either by feel or by color.  Only the finished print that comes out from my printer would tell if I fed the paper correctly or not.  Obviously there is no such problem with gloss or semi-gloss paper.  

There is a type of Xuan paper that I like to use and for lack of a proper translation, I'll call it cicada skin paper, or cicada wing paper.  This Xuan paper is very light and transparent and has a slight sheen to it, just like the wings of a cicada. The paper is considered sized or semi-sized, in that it allows color to float on it a little bit without too much bleeding.  It also is able to withstand repeated rubbing without having the top layer of fibers linting up.  Its transparency augments the transparent watercolor and bestows a very delicate feel to the painting.  It is a favorite with artists who do the Gongbi (elaborate) style of Chinese painting.  

I have a couple pieces of dance movement gestures done on such a paper.  I try to use calligraphic brushstrokes to describe the limbs and gestures.  I feel that this approach gives the dance movements more flow and energy.  There is a je ne sais quoi quality of  "writing" versus simply filling in the space with ink or color.

With me the dilemma is not whether I should paint on the paper face up or face down.  As far as I am concerned there is no perceptible difference either way.  My problem is which side of the paper should I be presenting as the top side of my painting.

The cicada paper's thinness and transparency allows the painted image to be visible from both sides of the paper, as if one is looking through a projection slide, or one of those double-faced silk embroidery from Suzhou.  The bottom side of the image can sometimes be a little less saturated or slightly well defined around the edges, but it is this quality that captivates me.

The picture above actually shows the bottom side of the cicada paper with painted image on it.

The painting on the left has the "face up" side showing, whereas the painting on the right is showing the bottom side as the good side.  Can you tell the difference between the two?

The following is a close-up of the painting presented with the "face down" side.  The images are more veiled like, more dreamy.  The limbs are obviously articulated but there are apparent discontinuity in the brushstrokes.  I suppose not all the color comes through from the top side. The blue streaks act like an atmospheric or water current, or even yards of fabric, enveloping the dancers.  I feel that "face down" presentation suits this painting well.  The audience is given more freedom to implement their gestalt. 

The "face up" side of the dancers shows more definition.  The calligraphic brushstroke does wonders with the split leap.  I am just treating the dancers as a words that need to be written, rather than filling in the spaces where their bodies are .  I especially like the effect of flaring on the clothing and all the toe points and all these are achieved with simple calligraphy brushstrokes.

I suppose no competent, upstanding artist would present the bottom side of a painting as the top side.  I don't know which is worse, hanging an abstract painting upside down or doing what I am doing now.  I don't suppose the viewer appreciates being made a fool of.  But for a second rate painter like myself, I need all the help I can get to add drama to my paintings.  I actually considered presenting these two paintings together as a diptych but I really don't want to insult anybody's intelligence, any further than I have to. 

Necessity is the mother of invention.  I am taught well!