Getting acquainted with painting

A few months ago I started painting bamboo. Little did I know when I started that it was the first thing to learn to paint, but also the hardest to master. I think I made reasonable progress. But the most important part is that I learned a different way of observing objects and portraying them on paper.

The painting style I’m learning is neither abstract nor realism. I’m not painting in detail, but need to have enough objects and/ or shapes to give the idea of the object I’m painting.I’m not that great at detail drawing, but when I see something, I see all the details and want to at least attempt to reproduce it.

It took awhile for these concepts and ideas sink in. But, I think I have the right idea and was able to apply it to the cat I painted recently.


Time to incorporate painting?

When I started learning calligraphy, the class was a combination painting and calligraphy class. In class I focused on the calligraphy, but would learn some painting here and there. I was not particularly interested in painting because I’m not very good at drawing. I did start some abstract painting. I felt more comfortable than trying to paint or recreate tangible objects.

I recently decided to paint some plum blossoms for a piece for winter solstice. I had not painted plum blossoms before. I used brush pens to paint the flowers and branches. I think the piece turned out pretty good. The proportion of words to the painting could be better, but the focus was supposed to be the words, not the plum blossoms. It took a couple of tries before I got the color mixture I wanted for the flowers. But in the end, I think it reflected what I wanted to paint.

It later occurred to me that I actually liked painting the plum blossoms. The painting and calligraphy would look much better on mulberry paper instead of western watercolor paper. Watercolor would create a better effect compared to markers. The piece would look better if I actually painted it the way it was supposed to be in the Chinese style. I liked the simplicity of a single type of flower. Perhaps abstract watercolor was becoming too abstract and experimental. A single branch felt grounded and stable.

My conclusion was that perhaps it is time to start painting in addition to calligraphy. When I started calligraphy, some family members kept on suggesting that I also paint. In the Chinese tradition, a painter must know calligraphy because the basic painting strokes are calligraphy strokes. However, a calligrapher does not necessarily need to know how to paint. After more than five years of calligraphy, maybe it is time to start flower painting. Maybe I have built up enough technique for it?

Watercolor Brush Lettering workshop with Nicole Miyuki Santo

In the beginning of the year, I was able to attend a workshop by Nicole Miyuki Santo. I first noticed Nichole’s work on her Instagram, and was really happy to find out she was holding a workshop near me. It was a great workshop where we learned the basics of watercolor brush lettering.

A major bonus of Nicole’s classes is that all the supplies come in a reusable wood box. It contains all the paints and paper for the class. There is a handout with notes. And there are additional paints to play with at home.

It was a great workshop. We learned beginning brush strokes and practiced some letters. Then we worked on putting the letters together to form words. Nicole coached us every step of the way. We also discussed how to form a final design.

I learned a lot about brush control for writing English. My experience with Chinese calligraphy and watercolor helped a bit in the sense that I was not new to using a brush and watercolors. My experience with brush pen lettering seemed to help as well. But with any new tool there are different adjustments to make.

I really like Nicole’s approach to design and style. Even though we were practicing her style to understand shapes and brush strokes, she also emphasized that each person’s handwriting is different, so we would have different styles to writing letters. It reminds me of the way we learn Chinese calligraphy, where we learn different styles of different calligraphers, but in the end we also develop our own style.

Back at home, I decided to apply my knowledge of watercolor brush calligraphy to French cursive. I used it as the basis for handletteredABCs February challenge on Instagram.

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It was really fun and my letter ‘R’ was even featured!

I really like using watercolors for calligraphy. Colors can be mixed to create new ones. One brush stroke can also create different values, resulting in a gradient. I’m excited to create more English calligraphy with watercolor.

Practice and the time of day

I usually practice calligraphy at night, because that is when I have time. However, I noticed my latest watercolor practice did not turn out so well when I practiced at night.

Lighting may not matter so much with calligraphy, since I practice with black ink. Working with brush pens is ok too, since the color is a significant contrast from the paper.

I think I prefer natural light when working with watercolors. With watercolors, small differences matter, which may be more difficult for me to see under artificial light. I am new to watercolors, so I just might need more experience before I can figure out what happens under artificial light.

Do you prefer to practice during the day with natural light, or at night under artificial light? Do you think it makes a difference?

Abstract watercolor workshop

I spent a great day participating in an Abstract Watercolor Workshop at the Pacific Art League in Palo Alto last Sunday. The instructor was Robert Dvorak. I felt it was the art class I never took in high school. The workshop was very well planned out. There were different exercises to complete, as well as time to take a look at everyone’s work.

I went into this workshop with an open mind. It was the first time I really worked with watercolors. I’m pretty intimidated by drawing and subjects, so I figured the abstract part would help me explore a new medium without having to draw still life or landscape.

It was a really fun workshop and I learned a lot. It helped that there were plenty of other beginners in the class. Robert was super patient and also emphasized an important part of creating art – smile and have fun!

I left the class with the courage to continue exploring abstract watercolors. I also came away with a few pieces of finished work!



During one of the breaks, I chatted a bit with Robert as he was admiring a piece of work. I looked at it and recognized it immediately as my calligraphy teacher’s painting. I told Robert this and he mentioned that he learned from Mr. Ho in the 1980s. Mr. Ho is my calligraphy teacher’s teacher as well. It’s a small world!

Our workshop seemed to come at an opportune time. Robert mentioned the Science Friday episode from the Friday before our workshop discussed abstract art and the brain. The guest was  Eric Kandel, the author of  Reductionism in Art and Brain Science. A key thing I took away from the discussion was that the more abstract a painting is, the more people need to use their imagination to interpret it. Also, people find it more enjoyable since they are using their own experience and thoughts.

I sent my parents some pictures of the work I did. My mom texted me saying that she showed my dad the pictures while explaining the technique used to make the painting. Apparently my dad wondered out loud if I did the paintings or if I took pictures of the teacher’s work. I’m not sure if there was a confusion in the conversation between my parents, but I’ll take that as a complement!

I had a lot of fun taking this workshop. There’s still more for me to explore, but this definitely gave me a good starting point. I’m not quite sure how I will integrate this with my calligraphy, or if I will integrate it at all. I also want to try to apply the things I learned in this workshop to Chinese painting. There’s so much more out there to try!