What It Means to Capture Movement in Your Brushstrokes

A few months ago, I discovered this video below of Liang Xiao Ping doing what I call "full body" calligraphy.  Haha!.  There is a fantastic sense of confident energy about watching her at work-

What's so particularly tasty about it is the fearlessness with which she expresses herself.  That confidence we see in Liang, born from a sort of "thoughtful carelessness", releases her so she can let the paint and brush really play.  I think it was Zbukvic that said something to the effect that "a little bit of carelessness is desirable".  Unexpected elements (often labeled as "mistakes" by those not in the know...haha!) are going to happen when you approach creating this way, but that's almost the point.  Making a painting this way is like writing a diary entry.  It's non-repeatable.  It's calligraphy, of course, and it's a painting, but it's also really a dance, which is why it's such a great example of creating a record of the body in motion

As I sat and thought about Liang's work for a while, Jackson Pollock came to mind.  I admit, sheepishly, that I'm not particularly a fan of Pollock, but in the context of the Chinese calligraphy Liang is creating, I saw a way in.  Some of Pollock's work is fantastically energetic.  It's more than a "description" of the body in motion.  Much like her calligraphy, it's a record of, essentially, a dance ... of a certain duration of time and space when he worked on that painting in a certain state of mind.  Like an imprint in concrete with a child's name by it.  That's interesting to me.  However, being an artist, my first thought isn't "How do I get a print of that?" but instead "How do I experience making that myself?"


With watercolors it is, sadly, sometimes hard to find that send of bold brushwork.  There's a long history of beautiful, relatively detailed, realistic work... atleast in western watercolor work.  Still, if we hunt, we begin to see it in there, hiding from time to time. 

Watercolor naturally disguises the brushwork, because it's not viscous like oils.  Still, If we look at some of the work from Alvaro Castagnet, you can see some really exuberant, daring brushwork.  Sometimes it is careless (LOL!), but sometimes it seems that it's an intentional sort of carelessness, where he wants to activate an area with a "human" element- namely, a record of the body of the painter in motion, using his tools.  Appealing brushstrokes.  You see it in the legs of his people, the rough windows of his buildings, his loose foregrounds and faraway hills.

Brushstrokes aren't always drybrush though.  With Ping Long, you see it done a lot in damp paper.  Mostly, I see it in his trees, which are loose and wild.  He can almost paint whatever he wants when he works on them.  They're a free form.  So he does, and we get to see that freedom in the strokes.  The edges are sometimes soft and diaphanous, as he moves (with a great deal of daring!) from dry to wet areas, but the confident through lines are always there.

The same really goes for Endre Penovac as well.  Here you can see one of his many cats and one of his chickens.  There's so much is wet into wet for the cat, you almost can't see individual brushstrokes.  And yet, looking at it, it's very very clear that part of its appeal is that it was done with the utmost minimum of strokes.  Of course, the chicken has that absolutely fantastic tail, and the cockscomb- where we see drybrush work merging into wet work, much like with Ping Long's trees.

The goal is to marry your subject to the strokes, so that they begin to feel a bit like the calligraphy we saw Liang doing at the top of the post.  Each artist begins to find different elements of their paintings where they can play with freedom (trees, legs, tails, etc), where the representational subject can dissolve into the brushwork underpinning everything.  And much like Liang's calligraphy, I'm absolutely sure they're all dropping these strokes down on the paper and then leaving them alone, warts and all.  The unadulterated stroke represents forever... that certain specific moment in time when it was made by a human hand.  It casts a kind of time-and-space-traveling spell.  If you go back and fiddle with it too much, you ruin the magic.