This tutorial covers the following topics:
- A study of a ‘Mi style’ painting by Wang Shi-man (王時敏) (1592 – 1680)
- Landscape paintings by Mi Fu (米芾) (1051–1107) and Mi Youren (米友仁)(1074－1153)
- Introduction to different types of Chinese brushes
1. A study of a ‘Mi style’ painting by Wang Shi-man (王時敏) (1592 – 1680)
A special type of tsun (皴) called Mi-style or Mi dots t’sun (米點皴) is the feature of this painting. The rocks are shaded with many small horizontal dots of various sizes, tone, wetness and dryness. The leaves of the trees are also drawn with dots. This is the style of Mi Fu (米芾) and his son Mi Youren (米友仁).
Mi Fu (米芾) (1051–1107) was a Chinese scholar, calligrapher, artist and poet born in Taiyuan (太原) during the Song Dynasty (宋朝). In painting he is famous for his style of painting misty landscapes. This style would be regarded as the “Mi Fu” style and involved the use of large wet dots of ink applied with a flat brush.
The Mustard Seed Garden Manual says : Mi Fu used the splash-ink (潑墨) style of Wang Hsia (王洽), combining it with the ‘broken-ink’ (破墨) and the methods known as accumulating ink (積墨) and dry ink (焦墨).
He is best known for his calligraphy, and he was regarded as one of the four greatest calligraphers of the Song Dynasty. His contributions to calligraphy and painting field are highly valued. Mi Fu died at the age of 56.
Mi Youren (米友仁) (1074－1153) was the son of Mi Fu. He followed and perfected his father artistic style . Unlike his father, Mi Youren lived to an old age of 79. The father and the son are known as “Èr Mi” (二米) or ‘Dà xiǎo Mǐ’ (大小米).
The Mustard Seed Garden Manual says : Mi Youren (米友仁) changed his father’s style only slightly. His clouds and mists were strange and elusive and one gets the impression that the dwellings were hidden at various levels on the mountains.
Mi Fu’s painting is very rare and a few Mi Youren paintings are kept in museums. Their paintings were copied by artists throughout the ages. Wang Shi-man (王時敏) reproduced Mi-style very well, so we learn from Wang.
The painting can be copied in a few stages.
We start the painting by sketching the tree trunks of the foreground in pale grey ink. More branches are added using darker grey ink. Darker lines are added to the tree trunk to make the trees look sturdy. Sketch the rocks and the two houses in the front shore. Add hemp-fibre t’sun (披麻皴) to the rocks.
Add horizontal dots in pale grey colour to the tree branches and to the rocks. After they get a bit dry, add darker grey to certain areas. Repeat this process until the trees and the rocks attain some three dimensional appearance. At suitable places, add dots using darker ink.
Sketch the distant shore with tree trunks, the bridge and houses. Add pale horizontal lines to represent the sandy shore.
Add hemp-fibre t’sun (披麻皴) to the rocks first, then add Mi dots (米點皴) using pale grey ink. Progressively add darker ink until the desired tone is achieved.
Sketch the distant mountains, the background of the painting. Add hemp-fibre t’sun (披麻皴) using pale grey ink.
Add more hemp-fibre t’sun, followed by Mi dots. Progressively add darker ink until the desired tone is achieved. Use a more or less dry brush with some ink to create ‘broken-ink’ (破墨), accumulating ink (積墨) and dry ink (焦墨).
Wáng Shímǐn (王時敏) (1592-1680) was a great Chinese landscape artist. He was born in Jiangsu (江蘇) province, and grew up in an artistic, scholarly environment. His grandfather was a prime minister in the late Ming dynasty, and his father was a Hanlin (翰林) Academy editor for the court, who had studied with Tung Chi-chang (董其昌). After learning painting and calligraphy at a young age, Wang worked as a government official. However he fell ill due to exhaustion on a trip to Nanking (南京) in 1630. Wang returned to his homeland and immersed himself in art, creating numerous works. Wang’s works place him in a respected group known as the Four Wangs (四王) of the Qing Dynasty.
The reason why we learn initially from Four Wangs (四王) is because how their paintings were done, including the brush strokes, present itself more clearly to a beginner. In contrast, it is more difficult to discern the brushstrokes o the original Mi Fu and Mi Youren paintings.
It is like the different teaching methods used at different stages of schooling – from kindergarten to primary and secondary schools and university. Kindergarten and primary teachers will patiently explain basic lessons. Once students master complex skills, they can learn from high level text books.
2. Landscape paintings by Mi Fu (米芾) (1051–1107)
Some museums’ holdings of Mi Fu’s paintings claimed to be original works. However, some scholars believe that there is no longer any reliable originals of Mi Fu’s paintings.
The above images come from 爱雅阁 《绘画》http://www.360doc.com/content/13/0208/07/6956316_264792421.shtml
Mi Youren (米友仁) (1074－1153)
The style of simplified, blurry mountain forms that Mi Youren inherited and perfected from his father marks a significant break from the Northern Song (960-1127) courtly tradition of highly detailed landscapes. This style is regarded as ‘ink play’ (戲墨) by scholar-artists. This is a preference for self-expression over descriptive realism. It is believed that this style has raised the status of painting to a level equal to that of poetry and calligraphy.
The above images come from 玲子爱画的博客 http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_563e5eb50101j3pz.htm
3. Introduction to different types of Chinese brushes
The Chinese ink brush (毛筆) is an extraordinarily versatile and sensitive instrument. It is basically a cluster of hair– goat, wolf, etc – held in a bamboo or wooden tube.
The hair is built up in graded lengths to a fine point. There are 2 major parts to the tip. The layers form an inner kernel and an outer mantle, with an air space between. This allows for great flexibility of the brush.
With respect to the hair texture, brushes can be classified into 2 main types : soft (軟毫 ruǎnháo) brushes and hard (硬毫 yìngháo) brushes.
Goat hair brushes (羊毫筆) are soft brushes. Brushes made from the feather of chicken (雞毫) is even softer, but very difficult to control. Many calligraphers use goat hair brushes to write running scripts (行書) and cursive scripts (草書). The famous calligrapher Kāng Yǒuwéi (康有為) is said to have always used chicken hair brush for his calligraphy.
Yellow weasel hair brushes (黃鼠狼) are hard and stiffer brushes. They are easier to write. Some fine brushes may also contains hairs of wolf, deer, leopard and other exotic animals. Zǐ háo (紫毫) made from hair of the back of wild hares 山（野）兔背脊毛 is the most stiff brush. Stiff brushes are good for writing regular scripts (楷書), clerical scripts (隸書) and seal scripts (篆書). They are also useful for landscape painting especially in the drawing of tree branches.
In between these two main types are the mixed hair of goat and yellow weasel hair called jiānháo (兼毫) brushes. They are good for general uses.
With respect to the sizes, there are big, medium or small. Most calligraphy is written with a medium-sized brush. The smallest brushes are used for very small pieces and for fashioning designs for seals. Bigger brushes are for writing huge characters or drawing huge paintings.
The brush second from the right is a gift from Mr Wong, my teacher. It was made in 1934 by Hú Kāiwén (胡開文) Workshop, a renowned brush and ink maker.
The tip of a brush becomes blunt after it has been used for a long time. The second brush from the right has been used by me for more than 30 year. The blunt tip is good to execute Mi dots. The first brush on the right was a gift from Mr Ip, my teacher. He has used this brush for more than 50 years. It is perfect for the use of executing big Mi dots. These two brushes have excellent flexibility. Please do not throw away your old brushes, they can be very useful for painting.
I would like to thank Professor P. Lam for his kind advice and guidance on the brushes.
Further readings :
Landscapes of the WANGS: Paintings by Wang Shimin, Wang Yuanqi and Loudong School from the Palace Museum and Shanghai Museum, (2011), Macau Museum of Art
Cahill, James (1960), Chinese Painting, Skira
Zhang Hongxing (2013) Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 – 1900, V and A Publishing