When I got to see Chinese painting while it’s being done, I thought it was going to be fun and easy, and so I spent the full three hours of that free workshop splashing and swishing acrylic paint on white mimeo paper with Chinese paintbrushes. Except that, having been playing with oils and acrylics since high school, I was more familiar with dry brush methods. The wrist too is most of the time resting on the canvas. Not with Chinese painting. The fun became frustration… but the frustration fed a resolve.

Thus started my addiction…

I returned at the closing of the exhibit to watch teacher Alex Chan Lim again demonstrate how it’s done, and right there and then I went up National Bookstore to buy watercolor after being told by teacher that the proper paint is watercolor and not acrylic. Teacher Alex brought me photocopies of their four basic modules — the plum blossoms, the ground orchids, the bamboo, and the chrysanthemums. These are the four gentlemen of Chinese painting, he said, that every student has to learn and be comfortable with because in these four are the basic strokes you will be using in Chinese painting, whatever subject you may choose.

November 4, I finally sat down at home to try what I have been taught in those three short hours and what I have observed in the demonstration, for the first gentleman, the Plum Blossoms.

In the free workshop, teacher Marissa said doing plum blossoms means placing the brush hair flat on the paper, and then rolling it. That was what I was practicing at the start. This was what I came up with after several sheets of practice strokes on white mimeograph paper.

The branches look not quite like it, the pistils and pollen look terrible. If you’re looking at the modules as well as watching youtube, you are aware that this isn’t how it should be, but your hand simply refuses to do as you bid it.

I decided to focus on the petals first, as hand is saying, “There’s just too much to control — branches, petals, pistils and pollens — I don’t want to follow your command.”

The petals look better, the pistils a little bit better, the pollen still a mess, and the branches are but rough strokes.

It’s the muscle memory you are developing, Chinese painting student Babyruth Chuaunsu whom I finally met at the workshop said as she encouraged me to continue. Thus I tried my hand on smaller blossoms to make sure that the memory being developed will not always go for big paintings.

The pistils are looking better but still not quite…

Now, focus again on the pistils and pollen and try using just one color for the petals to play with tones. The stems are still stiff, the main branch looks a little better…

Becoming confident that I’m getting it, I took a rest and started playing with the second gentleman, the ground orchid. The ground orchid was more difficult as it required longer strokes, strokes my hand couldn’t hold steady nor draw consistently…

I returned to the plum blossoms to tone down my frustration, this time giving focus on the branches.

I drew confidence once more from the fact that my plum blossoms look better now. They’re not perfect, but they look better than when I first started.

This is the first week… and these are but the better ones. To make these, I have gone through more than a hundred sheets. To go through more than a hundred sheets of practice strokes in the few hours left at night after work means doing nothing but… and yes, I’m a certified addict.

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