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Landscapes with David Hu - May 13th, 2006

Landscapes form one of the traditional areas of study for sumi-e artists. Students study landscapes and then later, as artists with their seals, keep on studying landscapes. In fact, many of the classic sumi-e paintings of Japan are landscapes with only a bridge or boat to remind us of the role of people. Well-known instructor David Hu returned workshop participants to the landscape when he opened his workshop by showing pictures by the Four Wongs, a family famous in Chinese antiquity for their paintings. One of these paintings was the basis for the workshop.

Landscape by one of the four Wongs

David offered participants a number of photocopies, which was handy especially later when they would try their own hand at a landscape.

David Hu with photocopies

A close-up of the handout that workshop participants used as a guide for their landscape shows how complicated landscapes can be.

Photocopy of landscape

David Hu used only a few brushes and mostly sumi-e ink to create his landscape, though some colour was added later. He began with a medium-sized brush.

A few brushes and sumi-e ink

David began by examining a section of the landscape he would use to form the center of the painting closest to the user. It was three pine trees.

Three pine trees located in the landscape

David first outlined the trunks and branches of the trees and then added some details to them.

Trunks and branches first

Next came the pine needles created in five pointed strokes per cluster of pine needles. David painted large needles, which stood out dramatically in on the painting. Getting just the right balance of groups of pine needles is the challenge in drawing them.

Pine needles added

David continued working on more pine needles in the lower branches of the trees. With darker ink, he highlighted some of the features in the trees.

More details added to trees

David completed the trees by adding some bushes behind the trees. We could not quite identify the bushes, but David Hu told us they are used for creating soap in China.

Trees in foreground complete

Then it was our turn to draw the trees aided by the handout given to the workshop participants earlier. David Hu came around to make corrections and suggestions.

David Hu helps workshop participant.

Participants in the workshop returned after creating their trees to watch David next turn his attention to the addition of the foreground and background, which would create the entire landscape.

Participants return to watch the completion of the landscape

The landscape was completed in layers, first outlining the rocks and water in the foreground followed by outlining the mountains in the background. The next pass added more details to the outlines. The last pass added highlighting to bring out features within the landscape.  David began the outline of the foreground to start.

Outlining rocks and water in the foreground

Next came the outline of the mountains in the background..

Outlining the mountains in the background

At this point the outline was complete.

Outline complete

David started to add details and fill in the foreground.

Adding detail to foreground rocks and water

Then David turned to filling in the background mountains. Tip: leave some space between trees in foreground and the start of the mountains in the background.

Adding details to the background

At this point, the structure of the painting and some details of the foreground and background had been created.

Details of foreground and background fill out the painting

David returned to the foreground and used dark black sumi-e ink to highlight the rocks.

Highlighting rocks with dark sumi-e ink

Similarly, highlighting was added to the background mountains making them more definite and bringing them into the picture in a more dramatic way.

Highlighting the background mountains

It was our turn again. Like David Hu, workshop participants added the foreground rocks and background mountains and subsequent highlighting.

Workshop participants add foreground and background

David Hu returned to finish his painting by adding colour to it. Burnt sienna and indigo with some sumi-e ink mixed into each container of colour was all that was needed.

Burnt sienna and indigo used  to add colour to painting

David began with the trees, colouring them with burnt sienna. A workshop participant asked how David could continually paint and only occasionally get some ink. David replied that he would occasionally turn the brush, which allows the ink to last longer.

Tree painted with burnt sienna

The tree trunks and branches continued to be coloured in burnt sienna. David used a double brush technique, one with the burnt sienna and one with only water.

Double brush technique

Then David added indigo over the pine needles with a medium-sized brush.

Indigo added over pine needles

The indigo is used primarily for the pines but it can also be used with restraint to colour water and sky.

More indigo added

David used a large brush with more water to fill in the earth and, afterwards, the mountain. These particular old mountains in China, David told workshop participants, are covered in earth. David Hu himself lived many years in mainland China.

Adding the earth colour with a large brush

The background mountains were drawn with the large brush next. Lots of water is added to the brush to lighten the tone of the burnt sienna.

Mountains are coloured by a large brush with lots of water to lessen tone

The colouring was now complete and the painting was very wet. The traditional way of drying such a painting is to leave it alone and let it dry, which is what happened in the workshop as workshop participants returned to work on colouring their paintings. The not so traditional way if you are in a rush: use a hair dryer!

Colour completely added to wet painting

David Hu and the workshop participants returned to David's demonstration. The painting, now dry, presented a more realistic painting as the colour had faded and the black sumi-e ink emerged to define the painting. David Hu, ever the perfectionist artist and instructor, added a few final touches.

Final touches added to dry painting