Monkey Business – Part 2

Several of us got into the swing of painting monkeys.  Anne of the Townhouse (AOT) created a large fellow, dabbing with a short scruffy old oil painting brush to build up his furry limbs.  Audrey reports she went home and did a panel of eight based on a 15th century work featured in the Tompkins’ book.

I read up on monkeys, studied the notes, and eventually mixed up some colors.  Amazing how many ways one can procrastinate!  Then I reminded myself that while the western approach to painting has typically been to attempt to create a representative image of something while contemplating the actual object or scene, the Chinese way is quite different.  One “studies” the object or scene (observing, contemplating) and then once you “know” it well, you grasp the brush and try to capture its spirit on the paper.

As we put brushes to paper, questions came up:  do all monkeys have long tails? What were the cheek whisker lines on the wonderful examples from Nenagh’s old instructional booklets? How are gibbons, baboons, monkeys related?

The All About Monkeys book by Robert Lemmon was a good read.  (Written in 1958, it predicts monkeys will soon be sent into space!) Art of the Monkey pulled together lots of interesting things about man’s relationship with the creature throughout history and gave examples of artistic treatments.

Monkeys are primates, right up there with us humans.  Two broad categories exist—the Old World Monkeys of Africa, India, Asia; and the New World Monkeys, which inhabit the jungles of Central and South America and some of the West Indies.

The oldest ancestor of all monkeys on earth today is believed to be an odd little beast with a feather-like appendage at the end of its tail, aptly called the Feathertail. Over 700 other kinds exist, varying in size from a marmoset that weighs in at a few ounces, on up to gorillas that typically tip scales around 600 pounds. I quickly realized it would be a daunting task to get to know so many varieties.

Some do indeed have only stubby tails.  Certain species live in trees, others prefer the ground. Their coats come in a great range of colors, textures, and lengths. Spider monkeys have longish limbs covered with long dark hair and do look spider-like in profile. Militia monkeys are so-named for their army-like maneuvers on the ground.  The graceful swingers are gibbons.  Those depicted in our old instruction book most likely were Cherry or Red-topped Mangabeys, which have distinctive cheek tufts, prominent ears and animated facial expressions.

I settled on attempting to replicate the various faces from our workshop handouts.

I then went on to try a few simple compositions.

I called this “Gibbons Hanging Out”

Not understanding Chinese I could not decipher why the artist started with the tail in composing an animal; doing eyes and faces first works best for me.  Using a red bean brush and dry black ink I drew the face and ears. I then stroked in the limbs with clear water and a soft wolf brush, gradually darkening them with light, medium and dark ink to give shape to the muscle structure.

I added color to the faces and ears, using first a light skin tone then intensifying parts of the cheeks and ears. Yellow went on the eyes, pale blue on eyelids if they were closed.  Fingers and toes were done in modified bone strokes in dark ink to define the knuckles and joints.  Context such as fruit and tree branches were put in last.

Oh you cute little monkey, you….

I can see the appeal in creating a larger collection of monkeys; their animated expressions are quite addicting and it is intriguing to watch them dry on various papers.


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