My Chien Chung Wei Workhshop Experience, pt. 5- Materials and Methods

I've had a number of repeated questions recently about Chien's materials and what not-- what paints did he use, his paper, etc, so I wanted to make a follow up post sharing what I've got, instead of answering each of you individually.

First things first- Arches paper.  I can't remember if it was rough or smooth.  Smooth, I believe.  This was, in part, because he does a great deal of scratching, and the paper needs to be able to take a reasonable amount of abuse. (edit- I have now heard from a number of people that Chien's paper was Arches Rough, 140 lb.  Thank you to those people who reached out to me and passed that info along!  I also like this paper, and its generally what I use.  I've also seen Alvaro use it.  Not Joseph Zbukvic's preferred paper though, which I believe is Saunders Waterford, 140 lb.  So, preferences vary!)

Here's a photo of Chiens paints.  It shows you the brands and the pigments.  It's not my photo though-- I wanted to thank Alex Bodnar, who provided a number of these photos from his workshop with Chien down in LA.  Useful stuff!  Thanks Alex.  You rock!

Of course, like many painters I've painted with, the brand did not seem so important to him.  Notice that he uses Cotman, not considered a "pro" brand.  Clearly doesn't affect his paintings in the least.  My understanding is that the Cotmans are still lightfast anyways- they just have a lighter pigment laod.  However, he did use a number of pigments very regularly, that were special to Chien's process.  First, he used LOTS of Vandyke Brown with Ultramarine Blue.  This provided him a rich dark neutral that he used all the time, instead of only mixing Burnt Sienna and Ult Blu, which provided another nice grey, but is of a lighter value.  He also used Verditer Blue and Jaune Brilliant No.1 (a yellow), both from Holbein.  Both have white in them, and he would mix them for pale valued neutrals.  They were a regular element of his sky work, and led (IMO) to the velvety texture you see in some of them.  He used those two a lot.

Here are two photos that feature his palette, which was messy and rarely cleaned, in the vein of Joseph Zbukvic or Alvaro Castagnet.  I'm not sure if it was a metal Holbein, but if it wasn't, it was very close. 

He was not finicky about which paints he mixed with, and would often dab from a variety of wells while mixing his warm or cool colors.  He also liked to mix what he called "purple sauce" (as he doesn't carry a purple on his palette), to act as a neutralizing agent, and for shadows.  If memory serves, he didn't carry any greens either, but only mixed them.  Perhaps someone else can let me know if they remember more clearly?

He used a lot of squirrel mops. He had pretty big ones for his washes, but he also had a number of quite small ones that he used for dry brush work, since they carried a lighter load of water.  However, he also had a number of synthetics/ synthetic blends that he used for detail work.   This photo from Alex Bodnar is of one of his smaller brushes was one he particularly come back to.

Here's a link to the brush, which he found. 

Chien also used this cheap, scruffy little brush featured below, to great affect.


This was used regularly towards the end of the painting process for dry brush work and scraping, to add texture. They cost less than 1$, so he really abused it to make whatever marks he wanted. As he often said, if you saw him pick that brush up, you knew he was almost done. 

Finally, I also wanted to note how much he used his palette knife.  You can actually see it in the photo above.  I got one like this, as it was the closest I could find.  Note how it comes to a point, and yet also has two sides with different lengths-


This allowed Chien to scrape very fine lines with the tip, such as wires in shadows or railings, etc.  He used the smaller of the two sides for making things like windows and what not.  Finally, he sometimes used the widest side for creating textural bits, what I called "negative dry brushwork".  He would use it to lift paint in areas, leaving a textured, speckled area through the removal of paint, rather than the adding of it.  A neat effect, with real interest if used sparingly.

And I think that really is it.  Ha!  If anyone has some further questions, don't be afraid to ask in the comments section.   I'd like to have them be public, so others can reference the comments in the future, if the find this post.