…and still somehow, I really don’t know trees at all.
Growing up, we had our pictures taken every July 1st at the foot of a tall spruce tree that marked the top of our circular driveway. Years later, when I revisited the farm I had my picture taken in that very spot. The tree of course was much larger. When Google Earth was launched the old farmyard was one of my first searches. And that tree stood out, much larger again and a heart-warming sight indeed.
It does not take much imagination to be transported to its base, feeling the scruffy earth at my feet, hearing the soft sough of the wind in the poplars growing beside the nearby creek. I know that tree very well. These days I study a cluster of tree silhouettes that greet me as I pour my morning coffee.
When it comes to painting trees, the ancients maintained long and careful study of individual trees was requisite. My three favorite resources for painting trees are 1. The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (translated from the Chinese and edited by Mai-mai Sze) 2. Li Xioncais Landscape Painting Manual and 3. The Pines of Tai Shan 100 pictures. All three are evidence that many painters have spent many long hours contemplating a whole lot of individual trees. I am amazed every time I pick up one of these books to find yet another inspiring image.
All three were acquired through the used book market. With the Mustard Seed Manual being widely used in Chinese Brush painting classes, different printings can be found. The content dates back to the 1880s and its current form was first published in 1956 as part of a larger work, The Tao of Painting. Combining technical guidance with ancient wisdom, the book is endlessly helpful. For students who admire the Zen of Chinese Brush Painting, this book is indeed to be treasured.
The Pines of Tai Shan has an unusual genesis. A rather large number of artists from the Shan Tung province ascended Tai Shan, one of China’s five foremost peaks, with art materials in tow, and attempted to capture the spirit and beauty of the mountain’s many charms. The final album consists of 100 of those resulting images; each one has its own magic and appeal.
The third tree book I cherish most in my art study is not as common a find on the used book market and can be pricey. The preface to the 1984 three-part manual explains the significance of its printing. Li Xioncai studied art for more than half a century in Japan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand and Canada. His dedication to studying and instructing others in matters both technical and spiritual permeates the text. The editors state in the preface that “ only those artists who have studied in depth, internalized it, are rich in poetic sentiment and who can endow nature with dynamic life, are able to paint with such total mastery.” I concur, the work is masterful and the instruction enlightening.