I recently reviewed a new DVD that I have now come to cherish, Lian Zhen’s Painting Traditional and Chinese Watercolors. Chinese art has always been a fascination to me. With simple deliberate strokes, and what seems to be a mish mash of marks covering a delicate rice paper surface in black ink with minimal color. I watch in awe as Lian’s marks seemingly join together into an amazing and magical creation.
This DVD is packed with multiple demonstrations, a gallery of works, and a chapter on Chinese painting materials.
Our Cheap Joe Miller was on hand the day that Lian filmed the DVD. And as I watched the two of them together on screen, I found some similar truths about them both. Although they come traditionally from very different cultures, Lian and Joe have made their way to art is the same fashion, seemingly by accident or by necessity.
Lian Quan Zhen was born in China, half way around the world. There he practiced medicine as a family physician. He came to the US in 1985, and being unable to continue his medical practice, he took a job as a busboy’s at a local restaurant. After learning English, he went to college and obtained a BA degree from the University of California at Berkeley and then continued on to MIT to receive a Master’s Degree in Architecture. Art just seemed to be where life was leading him. He soon, practiced watercolor painting more frequently and blended his traditional Chinese influences with the common transparent watercolor style of the US. This combination personalized his artwork and he soon began teaching workshops and developed a following all around the world for his special style of painting. Thus, here we are at present.
Joe Miller also started his life early on, in the medical field, as a pharmacist. With all of the pressures of the job, he needed a creative outlet so he took up painting, specifically, watercolors. Also in 1985, Joe became really involved in his art. It was then, he realized he could not find the professional materials he needed locally, and decided to buy direct from a supplier. Many of the art supply companies required him to buy in large quantities, much more than Joe could ever use himself. But he invested anyway and decided this small town of Boone may just appreciate great art stuff at great prices. With this in mind, Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff was born in the small hometown drug store known as Boone Drug. Joe developed a unique style as well and also a following of many who wanted to learn to paint like him. Joe teaches workshops and shares his love of art with people all over the world through providing fine art materials and also through supporting and promoting art. Again, here we are at the present.
During filming, Lian invited “Cheap Joe” onto the set to participate in a portion of the demo. Joe has a profound respect for Lian and his art, and also exhibits a bit of “Joe humor” during the filming. The interaction between these two highly respected artists proves that you do continue to learn even beyond your status as a Master of your art.
The DVD showcases several demonstrations of Chinese painting techniques and also Lian’s special style of traditional watercolor. In the traditional style, he chooses a variety of materials from Cheap Joe’s including American Journey Professional watercolors, Kilimanjaro watercolor paper, and American Journey Interlocked Synthetic brushes. However, Lian also makes the less common Chinese materials available on his website for use with his demonstrations of Chinese painting techniques.
In the DVD, Lian shares several painting demonstrations featuring a variety of animals, fish, fruit, and landscapes and also a chapter on Chinese materials and a Gallery of his current works.
The Chapters included:
- Grapes- Part 1
- Grapes- Part 2
- Landscape Part 1
- Landscape Part 2
Nothing Is Ever As Easy As It Looks
I, like many of you, watch DVDs to learn and add to my abilities as an artist. This helps me to blend what I know with what I have learned and to evolve my art in different directions. I find that using the information immediately helps me to retain it and learn more quickly by solving problems along the way. So as I watched the DVD, I tried my hand at Lian’s techniques.
When selecting my materials, I used the same basic supplies as Lian for the traditional watercolor demos, Cheap Joe’s Kilimanjaro paper and American Journey paints and brushes. I prepared my work area so I could view the DVD while painting. I stopped and started the video to paint along with Lian.
After completing the Traditional Watercolor portion of the DVD, I found I liked painting the rooster and the koi. I found the grapes the most difficult as I would have been more comfortable with something to refer to. Lian’s style of painting is very much like standup comedy in that the results are not really predictable. You have an idea of how you would like things to go, but anything could happen. This type of “improv” painting takes a lot of practice and with that comes the confidence needed to be deliberate in the placement of your strokes. Because you really only get one chance. I was rather pleased with my first tries at the rooster and the koi, but I know even these, as well as, the grapes will improve with practice.
I continued watching the Chinese chapters of the DVD and gathered the four basic materials needed for Chinese painting as Lian had described in the DVD, rice paper (Sumi-E paper), watercolors, sumi ink, and Chinese calligraphy brushes.
During Lian’s materials chapter, I discovered the difference between traditional watercolor paint and Chinese watercolor paint. They both are rather similar as they are water soluble and contain fine pigments and a binder. However, the Chinese watercolors are more opaque than transparent watercolors and have more “glue” in them which also causes it to become more permanent and lessens the ability to lift. This makes it easier to layer without disturbing the layer underneath. In this trial run, I just used opaque watercolor with favorable results, as I already had it on hand.
The Chinese calligraphy brushes are also very important. They are usually made from animal hair and are supported by a bamboo handle. They range from $2-3 up to $25-30.00 depending on the quality of the hair. I chose the more inexpensive brushes to use during the demo. I used three sizes of Chinese round brushes, small, medium, and large all made with horse hair. The more expensive ones that Lian used were made with sheep hair are seemingly more absorbent than other animal hair. I think as you become more experience with the process, this would be a good investment to make. The sumi ink and paper that I used were very suitable for these exercises.
I painted along with Lian’s during the peony demo and the crane demo with very good results. I found Lian’s instruction to be very easy to follow. I also liked the crinkly paper demo on how to create trees from all of the wrinkles left behind. What a great idea! I learned a lot from following Lian’s DVD and hope to continue using it in my own style of painting. I also developed a new found respect for this type of Chinese watercolors. I learned about new materials, brushes, types of paper, and Chinese watercolor paints. This is all great information that I can pass on to our customers at Cheap Joe’s. I love learning about new art techniques and materials. I know as time goes by, the ways of learning, as well as, the types of materials we will create with will change in the future.
While filmed instructional material is great, taking a live workshop is the best! It is an experience you will not forget with all of its hands on learning, personalized attention, first hand knowledge and student interaction. Lian Zhen will be visiting the Cheap Joe’s workshop later this year September 16-20. Our workshop facility is state of the art and one of the best in the country. Edwina May, our workshop coordinator, takes every need in consideration to make your experience one to remember. With 5 days of instruction with Lian Zhen, daily demos, morning gifts, unlimited healthy snacks, a mouth watering lunch, a fully stocked outlet store, and the best southern hospitality you could ask for, you’ll want to sign up early! Spaces are very limited for this wonderful workshop. There really isn’t anything better than the “real deal”!
Lian Zhen Workshop- Sept. 16-20, 2013, Boone, NC. This workshop is divided into two topics. The first part of the week focuses on Chinese painting. You’ll learn how to use Chinese brushes, inks, and colors, as well as learn the theory of Asian Art and techniques for two styles of Chinese painting. The rest of the week focuses on Western watercolor, in which you will learn basic techniques such as composition and coloring, as well as Lian’s other techniques of “Color Pouring and Blending”.
We also carry another DVD from Lian, “Chinese Watercolor Techniques, Painting Animals”. This DVD is specifically focused on animals painted with simple strokes. You can visit Lian at his website for more information on supplies and to view his artwork.
Instructional material can be found everywhere today. From DVDs and books, to online streaming and Kindle issues of your favorite art magazines. The technology of how you are receiving your material is ever changing. I, personally, love my collection of art learning material; books, DVDs, VHS, magazines, in whatever form. Some of the books I have had for over 20 years and I find I still refer to them regularly. I would rather thumb through an old art magazine or pop in a old instructional VHS than watching the news or the latest chick flick. I’ve always been that way. I love to learn about art. The internet is also a wonderful place to find facts, look up new information, and watch You Tube videos from artists all over. It is like a worldwide reference catalog. But, I don’t know if I will ever totally give up my physical library for a complete online experience. Taking a workshop is another experience that I prefer to participate in person. I love sharing ideas and collaborating on projects with others, to receive and give opinions, and experience that “Ah-ha!” moment when something has clicked in your mind. I do think online broadcasting and instruction will become more popular and convenient in the future, but for now, I am quite content to travel to a classroom for a workshop, or sit down and thumb through a book, or pop in a good instructional DVD!
Have a Happy “Try Something New” Day!