Fundamentals of Orchid Painting – Notes from The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, ii

Flower Petals, Flower Stems, and “Dotting the Heart”
Petals & Stems

According to The Mustard Seed Garden, each flower should have five petals. The smaller, narrow petals curl and the larger ones are broad and straight.  Stamens are indicated by dark dots of ink. When the flowers face the viewer, the dark dots are in the center. When the flower is viewed from the back, the stamens are seen on either side of the middle petal. When stamens are on the side, the flower is being viewed from the side.

As illustrated above, the flowers are in different positions – facing toward you, away from you, as well as to the side. In addition to different positions, the flowers are also seen in different degrees of development, from new flowers to older ones more fully opened.

Painting the orchid petals is a lot more difficult than it looks! A written description is not the best, but let me try:

  • Hold the brush upright,filled with light to medium ink.
  • If starting at the center of the flower, start with very gentle pressure, and then increase it slowly as you curve the brush a little, to curve the petal. Near the end of the petal, raise the brush up, and back over the petal you have just painted.
  • If starting at the the end of the petal and moving toward the heart of the flower, begin with pressing down and then curving toward the center, raising the brush as you move until the tip glides up off the paper in a gentle arc. You may want to retreat a little over the narrow part as you lift your brush.

Painting the stems is rather like dancing the waltz – a dip, a sway. If you look at the picture above, you will see that the stems have a bit of a bulge at either end. This is done with an upright brush put straight down on the paper, a little pause before moving it, and then a slight pause with light pressure at the end before lifting the brush from the paper. Do it to the beat of a waltz – a one, two, and a three – or to the equivalent of ONE (push brush down) two (pause and begin lifting brush and moving toward the end of the stem) THREE (push down, and lift, retreating over the painted area).

The fact is, describing how to use a brush for sumi-e is difficult. The only way to do it. If you have never taken a class where you can watch the instructor, the next best thing can be a video. There are a lot of good videos on You Tube and elsewhere on the net. Here are a few that came up when I put in “orchid painting” on Google, and chose video.

In particular, this one is good for how to paint the flowers themselves:

The painter is listed in YouTube as “yanghaiying” if you care to do a search for her.

Dotting the Heart

To “dot the heart” of the orchid is to bring the flower to bloom. To do this, dark ink is used. A brush that is relatively dry is also best, as then the ink will not bleed into the brush’s bristles nor onto the paper. Waiting until the petals have dried also helps.

To create the stroke, I begin with the brush upright, push the tip down gently, and then curve and lift the bush up at the same time. Observe some videos to see how the artist moves the brush – and watch it over and over to observe the movement of the artist, how the brush bristles are manipulated, how the brush is turned. Be patient – that little flick! is tricky! Once you accomplish that, you will be able to create some incredibly beautiful dots.

As can be seen in the above picture, there are all kinds of dots. Some begin with downward pressure, rise and push down again. Others are a dot, with a flick and a turn. Some curve, some are straighter, some are dots which are curvy – pressure and a turn – before the brush is slowly lifted up from the paper and turned as it leaves.

Just remember – it takes practice. People don’t “just paint”! Practicing all these little steps, leaves, petals, dots, and lines will give you the skill, knowledge and dexterity to create a seemingly simple painting.

Putting all these steps together will give you a lovely orchid!


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