Monday, June 3, 2013

Visual Poetry, and Thoughts on Landscape Painting

Winter Solitude, Watercolor on Arches #140 Rough paper, 7"h x 10"w, WIP 1

When I started to learn watercolor painting, I would be really puzzle by the idea that somebody could and would prefer to paint from a pencil sketch -- black and white, maybe with some notes jotted down on it. I would always wonder how they could proceed to paint a large full sheet landscape from a small 4" x 6" thumbnail value sketch -- how do they know what color the field it, and what detail do they put on that tree, how do they manage to paint it without a reference photo?... 

As I progress as a painter, I have gradually come to the realization that painting -- especially painting of landscapes -- is more about accumulating your collected pool of visual symbols and editing the shape in the image you are creating on paper, about tuning your visual language into a coherence poem. Even with a detailed photo snatched on spot a good landscape painting would more than likely to divert from it, and inventing his own shapes for a foreground bush, or tuning the sky color to create a certain mood. A good still life painting can be 80% similar in its color and shapes to the original reference photo (or setup), but in landscape it is very likely one would need to do 50% or more editing on shapes and colors to reach a pleasing picture on paper. It is more close to poetry than prose in this sense, if compared to literal arts.

This is probably why it is such a hard transition for competent still life painters to transition to landscape painting, and vise versa, because it in a way emphasizes a completely different arsenal of skills, although the basic elements -- shapes, color, value -- are the same for the two genre. Just like poetry and prose both uses words and sentences, though, it doesn't mean good poets would write compelling short stories, or reverse.

I feel I am relearning my visual language in painting more landscapes in the past couple of weeks, and would love to pursue this direction more. It is both exciting and terrifying, as all learning experiences are -- I am in uncharted waters here, and feeling again helpless more than competent most of the times. But it is also exhilarating. The journey has begun...

You can now buy high quality Giclee prints of many of my sold paintings, both on paper and canvas, as well as some note cards with my paintings here:


  1. You described the shift to painting landscapes, for a non-landscape painter, so perfectly!! We are both working to solve our own versions of this language. And I am sure we will both enjoy the journey.

  2. What a great post!! :) So eloquently put, Arena. I'm enjoying seeing your landscapes and progress with this very different genre. Cheers to you! :)

  3. That flower portrait is just amazing. It is so wonderful to look at.

    Canvas Prints


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