At the start of November, I attempted to do 水墨画 (shui mo hua) using her, Hsiao, as a model. I did not ask for her permission or whatsoever, I wanted to give the portrait to her as soon as I was done. It was going to be a surprise but now it is just an unknown consequences of my choices.
Putting the intention of impressing her with a portrait of her aside, I did not even realise that I am capable of completing a portrait of someone in less than 2 months, this is an accomplishment for me. My art and design sense are usually cited as one of the shittiest, I do not have any background nor experience in drawing, do not even say about drawing someone’s portrait, that is the most difficult or the ‘final phase’ of drawing.
Drawing a portrait is not easy, especially using shui mo hua which consists of Chinese black ink, Chinese brushes, Chinese painting colours, and 云母纸 (yun mu zhi)- Chinese paper. Obviously, I got some help from my teacher- Wang Lao Shi, who is very patient in dealing with my ridiculous request.
The first step is to draw boxes, 3 cm by 3 cm boxes, across a mahjong paper, I did a 15 x 15. “Draw boxes only, where got hard?” Yes, drawing boxes is a feat, especially for someone like me who is incapable of drawing a straight line, this is a challenge for me. After that, I got to print out her picture with 1 cm by 1 cm boxes across her picture, I used photoshop to help me out. Only then, I had to follow the outlines of her features at each boxes and trace them out accurately.
This technique is scintillating, it consisted only of copying the outlines out into a larger piece of paper, that is all, nothing complicated, even a fool like me was able to trace everything out, not-so-accurately. I did two attempts because of my poor drawing straight lines skill.
Sunday approached, I brought the drawing to my teacher for some help. My teacher corrected some of the mistakes that I have made, instructed me to tape the yun mu zhi unto the mahjong paper, and trace out the outlines of the portrait. I followed his instructions but I got scolded.
“Why did you trace out the face? You cannot do that! This will stiffen her face and it will make her face look unnatural.” he pointed at my face, “is your face stiff?” I shook my head. I knew what to do after this, I needed to repeat the entire process, again.
Third attempt. I prayed hard for this to go right. It did go slightly wrong, but this was the attempt that I got it.
After tracing out her clothes part using diluted Chinese black ink, we started off by gently touching the prominent features- eyes, nose, and mouth- of hers with diluted Chinese black ink. The control of the intensity of blackness of the ink is crucial in doing this because if it is too much, it will stiffen the whole piece of portrait, making it unnatural. My teacher helped me out with the eyes, as he did not want me to ruin this.
The hair was next, it was an intricate and minute process, I was instructed to carve out her hair, every single strand. My teacher demonstrated once, he asked me to follow the flow of her hair according to the picture, and to not put too much ink on the lighter parts. I did exactly what he said, added something extra. I accidentally lengthen her hair on one side, and stiffened another side.
“How can you pull her hair down so much on one side, she looks like your grandma already.” he said, I kept my mouth shut and listened, I was in no place in talking, “And you see, at the other side, why did you add those long stiff strokes?” I tried to explain but the reality was sitting right in front of me, the portrait did look like a grandma.
Hairs aside, resuming with her face, the most crucial part of everything. The entire process was akin to applying make up to a face. First, the foundation, using different intensities of skin tone like colours to apply swiftly on her face, washing them when necessary. Adding three or four layers to completely carve out her face with depth and life.
My teacher helped me out a lot here, I am just a beginner wanting to be a master chef. The whole process took a lot of patience, I did not know I have this much patience in me. I felt like even if I somehow or rather failed to give her this portrait, this would mark a bold accomplishment for me in trying something new.
I salute those who are in this art industry, and I really do understand about how to appreciate every single stroke and dedication poured into your piece of art. Devotion and love are the main ingredients in producing a hearty piece of art.
Profound. Enigmatic. Wondrous.