JUMPSTART is a collection of Joan Lok’s tips and know-how on sumi-e materials and techniques.  Joan Lok has been creating exquisite sumi-e artwork for over 30 years and is a popular workshop teacher.  She writes a technical column in SUMI-E, the quarterly magazine of the Sumi-e Society of America.

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© 2012 Joan Lok, www.joanlok.com, all rights reserved worldwide

After a hot summer with record-breaking heat waves sweeping across the country, it is refreshing to experience the cool breeze of autumn.  With it, we also experience the wonderful change of colors in the foliage.  From my college years overlooking the cliffs by the school library the North Carolina, to my travelling days across small rural towns in New England as a bank examiner, I always look forward to seeing the glorious colors nature offers every year.  When I visit my sister in Toronto in the fall, I always look up while traveling along Don Valley to admire the riot of colors in the land of maple trees.

While scientists can explain the chemistry of foliage colors as a result of the amount of the sugar in the leaves, the drop in temperature and the water in the soil, I am more inspired to discover how to capture those glorious colors in a single brush stroke.  To do so, we have to first learn how to load the brush with multiple colors.

Loading a brush with multiple colors depends on several essential elements.  Besides having the right kind of brush, you need to have sufficient room for the hair to pick up all the different colors, and have them mix naturally in the brush and on the rice paper. 

Hair absorbency

Generally speaking, soft hair is more absorbent then hard hair. If you plan to load a brush with multiple colors, a soft hair brush is more desirable than a hard hair brush.  You may also use a combination brush that have a coat of soft hair over a core of hard hair.  The outer coat of soft hair will allow good absorbency of the colors.

Amount of fluid in the brush

To protect the hair, the brush should not be dry when picking up the colors.  However, if your brush is saturated with clear water, it cannot pick up any more color.  Thus, I always moisten my brush by dipping it in the wash bowl, then get the excess water out by scraping the hair of the brush against the side of the water bowl.  When needed, I also tapping it twice on a plotting paper before picking up any color.  The hair is just sufficiently moistened and is now ready to pick up multiple colors.

Loading the Brush

While there is no single rule in art, through years of practice and experiment, I have developed a few favorite ways to load multiple colors on a brush.  The beauty of a multi-color stokes is in the natural transition and mixing of colors in the stroke, much care should be taken to ensure that different colors are visible in the loading process.

Start with the first color.  Pick up the first color and let it cover 2/3 of the length of the hair.  Get rid of excess paint by scraping it twice against the edge of the color dish.  

Pick up the second color and let it cover 1/3 the length of the hair.  To promote the mixing of the two colors where they meet, I gently roll the brush on a clean plate.  To add intensity and interest to the brushwork, I sometimes add a third color to the brush.  After picking up the first two colors and rolling the brush on a clean plate, I pick up a very small amount of the third color with the tip of the brush. The color will cover no more than 1/8” of the brush tip.  To keep this color strong and intense, do not roll the brush again on a plate.  The brush is ready for painting.  

Applying the Strokes

The way the brush is applied greatly affects the success of the painting.  Generally speaking, multi-color application is best shown with a classic side stroke which takes advantage of all the colors on the brush with one sweep.  To do a side stroke, hold the brush so it is almost parallel to the paper.  All the colors on the brush will be visible with a simple stroke.

Examples of Usage   

Multi-color brush strokes can be used in many ways to capture the wonderful colors of nature.  A favorite usage is for painting maple leaves in the fall.

Maple Leaf:  Load the brush with yellow and red.  Roll the brush on a clean plate to promote the mixing of yellow and red to create an orange tone where the colors meet.  Use the tip of the brush and pick up a strong crimson or brown.  Start from the center of the maple leave with a side stroke; draw a reverse V on both sides of the center.  Add two more reverse V on the upper left and right of your leave.  Adjust the shape by filling in the middle with the side of the brush as needed.  Repeat for additional blade of leaves.  Alternate the colors and shape of the leaves for variety.

With beautiful foliage in autumn colors, enjoy painting them with multi-color strokes.

© 2012 Joan Lok, www.joanlok.com, all rights reserved worldwide