Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sea Stacks, Ruby Beach -- 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge (Round Two), Day 7 (And I Did Finish This One!...)

Sea Stacks, Ruby Beach,
 Watercolor on Arches #140 Rough paper, 7"h x 10"w, 2013 #58


I've always loved Travel. A journey to somewhere always seem to give an aim of some sort to me: I have to get on with the trip every day when waking up, and the road is right there in front of me;  accommodations and dinning options are often frugally simple, far from extravagant to say the least, but just because of this, I believe journeys are addictive, at least to me. In between a long journey's quiet loneliness and busy clamor, there is often a clear river of thoughts extending until infinity. Thoughts about past. Thoughts about future. Thoughts about people I have met and people I have missed. Whenever I have a little bit time, anytime, I often would rather spend it on the road. This one has started as a plein-air sketch on the Ruby Beach of Washington coast. Time was late. The sky is always cloudy there. It almost seemed like it was going to rain, but finally didn't. Last light of the day has gradually seeped though the bottom of the meandering clouds, back-lighting all the sea stacks. The sky was a strange deep, saturated blue-purple, with a tinge of warmth along the horizon. Then it started to drizzle. My paper got damp. I got back into the car.

But I've never forgotten that moment, just like I've not forgotten another ten thousand random moments on my journeys.

Then recently, I have thought about how ancient Chinese Sumi Paintings are taught, and started to do another type of study -- I realized that landscape painting is largely about creating your own symbol of different landscape items (trees, rocks, clouds, grass, water, etc.) and express them with abstract brush-stroke-created-shapes. Dots and Dashes. Lines and Curves. The next question is: how do you translate the landscape in front of you into an image basically composed of these dots, dashes and various shapes? I believe this is like learning a language: you have to learn the vocabulary before being able to make a prose. Then, can brushwork be learned? Some say not -- they say it is part of you and has to come from within yourself, but I believe otherwise: one's "self" is constantly being shaped by what we take in from others -- by that I mean from other artists as well as the nature. You can collect the silhouette of a real tree by sketching it on paper, and you can collect a beautiful tree shape created by another artist by practicing making it on a scrap piece of paper as well. Guaranteed, it will probably not be identical as the original, but by this practice you can learn how the individual brush strokes creating that shape is made -- their direction, strength and timing, as well as just practicing making a pleasant abstract shape. 

That is exactly what I do every morning nowadays: just like the morning workout routines for some people. I would take a random piece of image from an artist I like for his/her ability to create beautiful shapes of landscape elements, and isolate one shape -- a tree, a rock, a cloud shadow, you name it -- and try to analyze how he/she has made that shape with their brush marks, and try to recreate it on my practice paper. By isolating the shapes the task does not seem as daunting: I am not asking myself to recreate an often seemingly "fast and loose" master landscape painting entirely, but just a tiny section of it -- one shape. By doing this again and again, I've already realized that I've started to incorporate these learned shapes into my own paintings out of memory. Again, they won't be exact copies, but my hand seems to have gained some muscle memory of the dots and dashes it has been making again and again!

So finally I've taken out this piece and decided to give it another try. This time I felt much more smooth and confident, more at ease with it, and much less mechanical when making the cloud and rocks of this painting compared to my first attempt of it (which I did not dare to share with you guys), and I think I have to thank such exercise for it. Maybe I should also thank time -- it is time that has made the scene simmer in my heart until it was ready to flow out.

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. So great to see you, another watercolorist, nice work Arena ~~

  2. Thanks Shelby! I appreciate the comradery of fellow watercolor artists in this challenge... :-)

  3. A nice painting and a wonderful post. I really admire your discipline and the way you're learning by following bits and pieces of various masters' work. You inspire me very much!

  4. Thanks Stilin! I really love your watercolors too -- especially your newest pet portraits: they are so vivid and really captured the personality of each one!


Thank you so much for taking time visiting and commenting on my blog! Your feedback and encouragements are things that keep me going with I am feeling down or frustrated... I will try my best to reply to every comment ASAP but sometimes life gets in the way and I am a bit slow in my response. I would like to apologize if that happens...

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