Second Saturday Studio: Landscape Escape

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Education

How would you portray your local landscape for an audience on the other side of the world? 

Poetry in Painting: Scenes from Fort Wayne’s Sister City Taizhou, China shares six artists’ interpretations of the landscape around their hometown. Imagine stepping into the scene below: what do you think the artist most wanted us to know about the place portrayed?

A landscape with towering hills in the background and a house nestled at the base with chickens pecking around the raised porch above a small stream.
Chen Jiali, Chinese, b. 1986. Autumn in Banshan Village. Ink and color on paper, 2023. Loan from the Artist. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

The aim of traditional Chinese landscape painting is not to capture a subject in photographic detail, but its essence or inner spirit. This means lots of time spent in quiet observation and meditation, and the paintings reflect the resulting sense of peace and harmony. Taizhou is on the coast, but it is best known for the rugged mountains on its outskirts, such as Jiufeng that gives the Landscape Painting Academy its name. 

The contemporary artists in Poetry in Painting build on 1500 years of tradition! In China, painting and calligraphy developed together, so similar mark-making techniques appear in both, and while the paintings in our exhibition include some color, it is mostly soft and subtle; the focus, instead, is on varied brushwork in black ink. Look at all the different ways black is used below:

A dense forest reveals a singular path through the trees to the far left that leads toward mountainous shapes in the background.
Dai Xuezhao, Chinese, b. 1963. A Mountain Spring. Ink and color on paper, 2023. Loan from the Artist. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

The artist varies the amount of water used and the angle, speed, and pressure of their brush to achieve different effects, from fluffy trees to craggy cliffs. Soft washes fill the backgrounds and large areas, while the details in the foreground are more sharply defined. Rather than rely on linear perspective to create the illusion of depth, this helps define the space. The techniques of Chinese brush painting may be simple for an observer to grasp, but mastering them with the level of confidence, skill, and nuance seen in these works takes years of practice. We’d better get started!

A note on supplies: if you find that you really enjoy this style of painting, you may want to purchase some ink, which is traditionally compressed into a stick and ground on a special stone. Otherwise, you probably already have the supplies below!

  • Watercolor paints
  • Paintbrushes (preferably a round one that comes to a point, plus maybe a flat wash brush)
  • A pencil
  • Drawing paper (traditionally, absorbent rice paper is used)

First, practice some techniques! Working with transparent watercolor is unforgiving, so you may want to keep scrap paper nearby once you start on your good paper to practice different brushstrokes.

Add a few drops of water to your black paint and allow it to soak in for a minute, then load your brush. Hold the brush straight up and down, then drag it across your paper, varying the pressure. Try the same, but hold the brush at an angle. Then, try it again, but vary the speed. Notice what happens each time.

Try adding different amounts of water to achieve different values. Quality ink in the hands of a master is said to produce infinite different shades! (Your watercolor set may be slightly more limited.)

You can also achieve different effects just by loading the paint onto your brush differently: applying dark black just to the end of a wet brush, then using an oblique (angled) stroke results in a gradient.

Once you feel comfortable making different kinds of strokes, move onto your landscape! Think of a familiar place and start with a light pencil sketch on your paper. 

Then, start to fill in the basic shapes of your landscape with washes of gray and soft color (use lots of water). Add details and textures with shades of black and gray, using the strokes you practiced earlier. The finest details and boldest, darkest colors should be added last.

Want to see these works in person? Join us on our Second Saturday Family Tours, every second Saturday at 10:30am at FWMoA!

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