Category Archives: Creating a Painting

Persimmons, i

I love the color of persimmons – bright orange fruits silhouetted against the sharp blue of the autumn sky.  These are the hachiya variety, and when you buy them in the store, they are hard.  As they ripen, they become blacker and squishy.

Honestly, I bought these with photographs as my primary thought, but in the back of my mind, ah!  persimmon bread!  And now, having photographed them, my current thought – before turning them into bread – is to paint them.  And so I shall, later on.  Right now, though, on to photographing them.

Set-up for the Persimmon Photo Shoot!

The photo shoot took place on the south side of the house, with the sun rising from the east.  No clouds, just a bit of wind.  Above is the set up – you can see the directional cast of the shadow.  Light was quite contrasty.  The camera shoot involved about 100 or so images (ah, the glories of digital photography!), at all f/ stops and exposures, with a polarizing filter and without.  Add to that, some with flash and some without; some with filtered flash, some without.

The final images here were done with a filtered flash, using f/32 and 1/60 second for exposure.  Post processing was done to clean up spots in the background in the paper, as well as to clean up a few flaws on the fruit.  Color was adjusted to some degree, with the final photo given a slightly warm setting to give an impression of reflected light from the fruits, or from a bit of a glowing evening light.

Cropped Image, Print Size 9x12 Inches

Some Clean Up

More Clean Up with Warming Tint

I pulled on compositional elements in painting – three items, three directions. I also cropped the photo at one point to create a different image, using the two persimmons on the right.  However, the last picture, supposed to suggest an evening glow bombs now that I think about it!  The reason is because the tint of the background is too consistent – certainly not something one would paint!  So, in the final analysis, the ones with the white background are more pleasing to me, and so is the black and white one below.

Final Image in Black & White with Contrast Enhancements

I expect I will do something in sumi-e with these persimmons in the next few days, with and without color. I need to pick up that paint brush!


Sumi-e / Ink Painting Books, ii

Motoi Oi, i

Today, I am going to begin a brief series on a rather lovely set of books, published by Motoi Oi (1910-2004) shortly after his arrival in the U.S.  Initially paperback books, self-published and handbound by his wife using traditional Japanese binding, much of his work was consolidated into hardback by the Japan Publication Trading Co. in Tokyo.

The Sumi-e Society of America writes about itself and Mr. Oi:

The Society was created in New York in 1963 by Professor Motoi Oi to foster and encourage an appreciation of East Asian brush painting.  For the initial fifteen years (1963-1978) its annual exhibitions were held in New York City.  Over the years, the Society has grown and there are many chapters in the United States and a sister organization in Canada.When asked why he had started the Sumi-e Society, Mr. Oi answered, in part, “In the East, paintings reflect the great joy of culture.  They are a reflection of an intense personal idiom.  My idea was to provide a means through which the fresh, new spirit of American culture could be viewed in Sumi-e.”

Professor Oi was born in Japan and in 1958 he emigrated to the U.S.A. where he worked as a printmaker, painted, wrote books on Sumi-e painting and taught art at Queens College , New York City and the Brooklyn Institute of Art and Science.

In 1981, Mr. Oi was awarded the 6th class of the Order of the Rising Sun for his work in US-Japan cultural relations.

Oi Sensei

Oi himself writes on the inside cover flap of this book:

What is sumi-e?  Is is so simple an art form that a novice can literally pick up a brush and start painting right away.  Yet, it intrigues even those whoc spend their lifetimes studying it.  In this book, Mr. Oi introduces to the beginners the fundamental techniques of sumi-e and describes its spirit, which plays the most important part, in terms of … Zen Buddhism … a mystic religion of extreme self-discipline and concentration.  The importance of its [sumi’e’s] spirit is, however, too often ignored, and the craze for this art is usually based on a complete misunderstanding, the result being a mere imitation of its superficial features.

Given this, I am not even going to approach the spirit behind Mr. Oi’s books; rather, that is up to the individual artist and reader to explore.  Instead, I think it is interesting to read the book and consider what is said.  For instance, in the above edition, concerning rough sketches, he writes, “in following a rough sketch, painting becomes a matter of technique and hence loses the fresh, spontaneous feeling.  Therefore I do not recommend it.” What does this mean?  To me, it says it is best to look at each subject as something totally new and unexperienced.  It also says to consider the subject in advance – light, dark – and to consider the approach to the painting in terms of brush stroke, ink gradation, how the brush will be loaded.  This, of course, comes through practice of lines, circles, and other techniques, such as illustrated below.

Mastery in any art or craft means mastery of its tools.  Here, ink, brush, paper, water.  It also means mastery of the self, in whatever way it means to you, the painter, the artist, the craftsman.  I rather like these paragraphs from his “Notes on Sumi-e” found at the end of the book:

The ability to think is what produces a good Sumi-e.  A dexterous hand may turn out a mechanically excellent picture but not a true Sumi-e in spirit.

Pick up a Fude with a deep sense of humility.  Free your mind of arrogance and hostility.  You are not out to conquer Sumi-e.  Rather, you want to be one with it.  There should be neither a victory nor a defeat.  Complete union is the ultimate goal.

Sumi-e is a mirror to your mind.  It, however, surpasses mere reflection by rendering an image free of frills and pretense.  Only the bare truth is reproduced on a sheet of paper.

I wonder, myself, just how this might be judged by others.  For me, I know when I have accomplished this, free of the monkey mind; I can look at my painting and know it is well done.  But do others see it?  I think we are all prejudiced by our moods, likes, dislikes, current preferences.  Certainly what appears good today may seem like a horror the next.  As we are not static, perhaps this undulation of appreciation – this seeming fickleness – is actually a very, very good thing.

Iris, iv

Irises – in Color – in Ink

The iris – the butterfly flower – is just too much fun to paint!  And quite a challenge as well.  The videos make it look easy, but I assure you, it is not!  The shape of the flower petals is far more difficult to do in a few squishy movements than it appears.  Loading the brush, with ink and / or pigment, is also a challenge.

Of all the videos, I looked at Virginia Lloyd-Davies’ the most.   The reason for this is that she has multiple irises in different positions.  She also uses similar approaches for each iris, but varies the iris enough so that brush variations also occur.  By watching her video repeatedly, it became possible to actually learn a great deal by imitating.

For these pictures, I used the same paper. The paper is double xuan, which is an absorbent paper which is heavier than student grade, and much nicer as a result.

Iris Scribbles

Unfortunately, I did not take very good pictures, but at least they are clear.  In the picture above, you can see some attempts are better than others.  This picture represents my first attempts at painting irises in color. The ones on the left side were done with the paper turned around – what you see are upside down.  The reddish-purple ones are my first ones, the blue ones later on.  You can see there is some improvement.  As always, my sense of value seems very off to me – not enough contrast between the light and the dark and middle tones. The yellow iris was just awful. The yellow paint has a decidedly greenish cast, and I could not find my white paint (I’m using Marie’s Chinese Paints) – or maybe I’m just out of it.  Anyway, it held no appeal once the color was on the paper.

Colored Irises, i

Colored Irises, ii

These two side-by-side paintings were my tries at creating the irises and attaching them to the stem. Not very good. The colors of the irises are not bad, but the shapes leave a lot to be desired. Leaves as well are unpleasant.

Colored Irises, iii

This painting with the reddish irises is better than the blue ones, as far as some of the shapes of the flowers. Those of you familiar with orchids in Asian painting will realize that these are orchid leaves, not iris leaves! Well, I guess I have some sort of hybrid here.

Sumi Iris, i

Once I got frustrated with color, I got out a Chinese ink stick and ground up some ink. I made three shades – light, medium, dark – and went to work. Again, contrast was an issue, but the flowers, stems, and leaves became a lot nicer. This one was the first attempt which pleased me.

Sumi Iris, ii

The second sumi iris also shows a problem with light / dark, but the composition is pleasing to me.

Sumi Iris, iii

And this one, the third one, pleases me the most. Still some problems with light / dark, but not so badly. The entire flower is looking a lot better, from top to bottom. Certainly some of the irises are rather blobby, and the buds don’t quite make it. Parts of the painting are too busy or crowded, but, over all, I think I am seeing some success. Certainly I plan to continue practicing, and I hope that I will be able to produce a creditable flower.

Leftover Ink

This is what I did to use up the rest of my sumi ink – I hate wasting it!

Corn Stalk

Tiger Lily, i

Tiger Lily, ii

All these paintings were done on Memorial Day. A few others were done as well. As far as the photography, well, let’s just say it sucks and I need to work on it. The paper is a warm cream, and perhaps I should have used a flash. Ah, well, always something new to learn.

Iris, iii

I keep thinking about my cochineal dyeing – I still need to write up the rest of it, and post some pictures. Maybe tomorrow when I have more time.

Tonight, though, is painting night. Not a lot of time for it, but in the little time I had, I did some outline drawings of irises. The idea is to get a sense of shape. I drew from some of the photos, and copied some from the Mustard Seed Garden; in fact, I think the best ones were those as the contrast created by the lines was very nice.  My own drawings are quite lacking.  I am so out of practice!

This painting was the first, done early this morning on the same very absorbent paper I used for last night’s wash paintings. You can see just how it sucks up the ink – whoosh! The rest of these are done on tissue thin sulfite paper from Japan, which is much better for line drawings as it is not as quick to wick the ink out of the brush.

All of the above were done from photos. The bottom one was copied from the Mustard Seed Garden – and you can see the refinement compared to my own awkward drawings. Hopefully I’ll get better . . .

Iris, ii

I did my visual research.  I downloaded almost 100 different iris pictures, for color, shape, structure, position.  Too many to post here!  Also copies of famous prints and paintings – Japanese screens, Van Gogh’s fields.  Besides flowers, I also looked at leaves and descriptions.  I pulled out my “how to” books. And, I watched the videos from my last post.


The iris is an impressionistic dream!  It is not a tightly structured flower, but more an explosion of color and shape.  Also, not all irises are bearded, even though there is a similarity of structure amongst the varieties, as far as I can tell.  The color variations are numerous, and vary from subtle to outrageously loud.  The most structured thing about the iris is the leaves, which are a perfect contrast in their simplicity against the frilliness of some of the blooms.

Each video provided some instruction, in shape, in how to move the brush, how to load the color.  Right now I am working in sumi ink alone, so that means grays, whites, blacks, and everything in between.  The paper I am using is a roll, and the paper itself is very absorbent.  This presents a bit of a challenge because the brush has to be very, very dry for control.  And then, waiting for the paper to dry enough to pick up darker lines, but not bleed them away into the already wet paper.

This is what I accomplished this evening.  The main focus of this painting venture was to think about, and to do, the brushwork.  Determining how to manipulate the brush to create given shapes and how to load the ink onto the brush is part of this practice session.  Because the throat of many of the lavender-blue-purple irises have a yellow throat, that pale color has to be represented by white or light grey ink.  Some irises are light on the tips, and darker toward the center.  How the stem attaches to the flower is also important, and deciding how to relay it visually also means deciding what kind of movements need be done with the brush, wrist, and so on.

I’ll stop with that.  Needless to say, the values need to be sorted out at some point!  These are all disasters in that area.

From Sadami Yamada's Book on Flower Painting

Following the Brushwork of Danny Chen's Video

Following Virginia Lloyd-Davies' Brushwork in Her Video

First Attempt Looking at a Photo

Painted from an Upside Down Photo - a la "Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain"

Upside Down Painting Right Side Up!