Of orchid painting, the concept of ethereality should be the central
theme. If the artist can attain this conceptual state, his scroll will
naturally savour of the quiet aroma of his subject.
The most difficult part of orchid painting is the execution of the long
leaf-strokes. The first two or three blades are quite easy to manage but when they grow into a tuft, the difficulty becomes enormous indeed, and the slightest negligence may turn the whole picture into that of weeds and rushes.
In point of composition, the artist should treat one flower as the
principal and support it with three or more blades. No orchid picture
is worth the paper it is painted on, unless every leaf shows the gracefulness of being "in the wind," so to speak. If the artist intends to do a thick tuft of orchids, it is advisable to paint the multiflorous hui, instead of the single-crested lan. As it is a ticklish problem to arrange so many blades into an interesting composition, he must pay the utmost attention to the flowers and charm them ill they are on the point of dancing.
It is ideal to portray the orchid in ink monochrome. If the artist prefers
water-colour, he may paint the blades in bright indigo and the flowers in tender green or sap green. The centre of the flower should be a shade paler and be slightly dabbed with saf-flower red or red ochre. The stalk, if painted in tender green with a dash of red ochre, may appear more sprightly.
When the picture is done, if the artist desires to define the contour of the plant, he may merely draw the centre line of the blades to indicate light and shade, and that will do. In ink monochrome, it is not advisable to trace any outline at all, since the bend and curve of each leaf is denoted by the brush-stroke itself, the moment the artist manipulates his brush. Light colour becomes the flower, deep colour the blades. The artist must not tamper with the petals, nor try to shade them and thereby identify himself with vulgar taste.
Extracted from Chinese Painting with the Original Paintings and
Discourses on Chinese Art by Professor Chang Dai-chien
Edited and compiled by Kao Ling-mei
Translated by Yao Hsin-nung
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