To do justice to the sturdiness and chastity of the plum tree - to which
these characteristics are traditionally attributed - the artist must paint
its rugged stem and gnarled limbs as though they were wrought in iron.
While the branches are being drawn, suitable space should be reserved
for the blossoms. In an ink monochrome, the artist first makes a rough
sketch of the plum blossoms in diluted ink, then executes the detail in
light strokes with inspired abandon, in order to achieve rhythmic vitality.
In a water-colour, it is best to delineate the petals in thin lines and
suffuse the outskirts with a tinge of pale indigo, so that the blossoms
will stand out without having to be painted white, and will seem to
be bathed in moonlight. The indigo shading will not be necessary, of
course, if the petals are to be dabbed with saf-flower red.
The component parts of the plum blossom should be painted in the
following order: first, the petals; next, the filaments; then, the pistils; and
lastly, the calyxes. Of the four, the last is the most difficult, for it is the
very thing, as Ku K'ai-chih (397-467) observes, in which the artist may
capture the spirit and essence of his subject.
The contour of the petals should be round, not as uniform and perfect
as a cluster of pearls, but in such a vivacious manner that the buds and
blossoms alike appear to stir with the gladness of life. The filaments
should be done in neat order without suggesting the mechanical
symmetry of pins tidily stuck in a pincushion. The tiny dots of anthers
should be evenly distributed as would befit the varying length of
the filaments and thus produce a charming effect. The calyx should
be so painted that it either peeps out behind parted petals or firmly
embraces a bud, as it does in nature. While working on the calyxes,
the artist must carefully study the particular attitude and poise of each
blossom and see whether it faces front, back, left or right, whether it
is prone or supine, in the light or in the shade, as the case may be. He
should see to it, of course, that each calyx indicates the branch to which
the blossom is attached...
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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