Leaping Into the Fire



Recently I took a UCLA extension class called “Chinese Brush Painting”.  It sounded innocent enough.  

I decided to sign up for it because someone I had a critique from a couple of years ago told me that because my lines are minimal and to the point, I might want to try Sumi painting.  At the time I went out and bought a Sumi brush, tried a few strokes and that was really it.  The UCLA Extension catalogue shows up faithfully every quarter and although I always take a look at the art classes, rarely is there something I want to take.  A mentor of mine told me in 2002 to stop taking classes and just work.  I thought that was good advice, I needed to focus on my own voice rather than doing class assignments.  For a long time I didn’t take any classes unless it was art history.



But when I saw that there was to be a weekend class in Chinese Brush Painting, I decided to try it.  9-5, Sat and Sunday.  I called to order the supplies, spent a lot of money, and headed off to the class with my as yet unopened box from the art supply store and my green backpack with my hairdryer, palette, and spray bottle inside.



To put it simply, the first day was overwhelming.  I never felt that I really knew what I was doing.  I could just barely keep up because just when I thought I had mixed my paints correctly, as soon as I dipped my brush into the dish, it had soaked up all the paint and I had to mix more, thus feeling more and more behind.  By the middle of the morning I was more stressed out than I had been in a long time, my stomach hurt and I wanted to cry, well, sort of.  The teacher was a master, the art having been in his family for 4 generations, and the other students were very nice. I learned after awhile that some of them had been doing this for 10-20 years.  Hmmmm.  I decided to see what I could do to make this whole experience more manageable.



 As it happens, at the beginning of the class that first day the teacher told us that his wife would be in the back selling supplies if anyone needed anything.  Okay.  One thing I had noticed was that the students near me had what looked like a much better wash brush than the cheaper version I had bought, and since I had been having so much trouble with mine, I decided right then and there to buy the better one.  I realized mine was too soft, and this better one would make my experience in applying washes 100% easier.  This medium was so foreign to me that I had taken all of the advice of the salesperson above my own, who was very kindly trying to save me money, and bought the cheaper version.  Note: remember to follow my instincts.


After the day was over, I rolled it over in my mind and tried to figure out just why I had gotten so stressed.  My friend said to me, “you were stretching” “you were learning something new”.  I think she was right.  I guess I had been so used to my own drawing even though heaven knows that’s hard enough sometimes; but still, it’s very familiar.  I always want to do well and I couldn’t seem to get my head above water, as it were.



The second day was 180 degrees better, funny how that happens.  Suddenly the supplies were familiar and I settled in.  But that first day was very instructive and in some ways, will probably stay with me longer than day two.  

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Showing 4 reactions

commented 2012-10-19 19:10:55 -0700 · Flag
To Elizabeth and Jacob,
I do like getting feedback, so thanks so much for your reactions and comments!
commented 2012-10-19 10:12:24 -0700 · Flag
Very impressed with your story and the drawings. So different from your other work. Congrats on all counts!
@activeCoder tweeted link to this page. 2012-10-09 12:46:56 -0700
Check out my new blog post about a weekend Chinese Brush Painting class http://t.co/H7nY7rLp
commented 2012-10-09 12:46:35 -0700 · Flag
What a great story! Thank you for sharing your experiences. I hope that it inspires your readers to try something new.

Also, your pictures are very beautiful.