Fan-dancing with the tiger

While leafing through my resource materials analyzing classic cat poses (see last post) I tripped over one showing tigers painted on fans.


Artist Xia Shanhe included these inspirational compositions in a book dedicated to painting tiger.

Just last month I had explored fan painting after receiving gift papers from another artist.  I painted an eagle on one, but still had another paint-ready fan with a gold surface.


Other members of our art group who also received fan paper from Cindy were yet discussing what they might do with their treasures. One was planning orchid, another thought lotus leaves with a kingfisher, and the third remained undecided. Tiger is not a common subject for fan painting.

When I shared my findings, Lotus was quick to notice the one with a tiger profile on the lower left contemplating the tip of his own curvy tail (which entered the fan shape from above right) was painted on a gold background. Ostensibly his body twisted up and around such that the tail hung down in his near vision. Lotus reminded me that my remaining unpainted fan was gold. “Oh, you MUST paint him on your gold fan” she urged.


Convergence of inspirations

I looked at the composition more closely and pondered the possibility of trying it. By the time I got home from art group, I was considering the connection between tiger head on the left, and the tail on the right. The facial expression was one of puzzlement mixed with annoyance. It was definitely a fixed feline stare. But the body stance was not quite right, I figured.

Cats usually extend their tail in such as way as to ‘balance’ their body. Their heavily muscled arms and legs are like coiled springs, tightly wound up most of the time, and the tail thus serves like the balance pole used by a tightrope walker—it gets “pushed” as an equalizing force to offset a push in another part of the body. Hence the tail usually extends in the manner of a sine curve, with the tip ever so slightly raised. Only when a cat is at rest, usually sitting on a ledge or ground, does the tail relax and the tip then curls toward its body, or gets flicked gently back and forth.

I hunted for photographs of tigers in semi profile with a body contorted in this manner, and with the tail raised and swinging towards the nose of the cat. All tigers I examined held their tails extended as balancing rods, with tips pointing up; none were curled down and none were held out in visual range.


This is the only image–a brush painting–I could find of a tiger with his tail curled in his line of vision. Alas, I do not know the artist’s name.

I then took pencil to paper, traced the part of tiger in my inspirational fan, and then tried sketching the full cat body to connect both head and tail.


A sketch of the fan tiger as painted looks a bit odd


I found I needed to put paws in front to “see” the tiger posed as in the painting.

I found the twisting body could work, if the cat’s front paws were out front and more of the hind and rear left leg defined. The artist had indeed had a clever idea, not necessarily realistically portrayed.

I used up several sheets of tracing paper, trying various tail placements with eye direction in the head on the left. When I thought I had a workable sketch, I planned the stripe patterns more thoroughly and thought through my tiger fan painting.


Painting Strategy:

  1. I worked out the full body of a tiger posed such that he was twisted around staring at the tip of his tail; I super-imposed the fan shape over the sketch to cut off the middle of his body, leaving head on the left and tail entering the right side of the fan from the top.
  2. I cut out the main shapes and lightly traced the outlines on to my gold fan with a soft charcoal pencil.
  3. Not knowing how ink would behave on the gold paper (TOB suggested use a very dry brush to start, because you can always add moisture but not take back) I decided to ink in the tail first. It was a section unto itself and allowed some wiggle room in terms of width, curve, and length. I started with light ink and a detail brush, moving up to darker ink.
  4. I proceeded to the tiger front end, starting with a light ink outline, enhancing the stripes with dark ink, and finally adding color washes with a large orchid brush.
  5. I painted the eyes green and used a very fine brush to do the whiskers. Then I worked on the colored fur some more, adjusting stripes and body creases where I could.

First step was to define the tiger in light ink



I then started to darken the stripes with black ink


After a short break to catch my breath and ponder results, I added colors


I decided to place my chop in the lower right corner, not parallel to the fan edge as some artists do in fan shapes. Perhaps if there was accompanying calligraphy then the alternate placement would better suit the composition.

Inasmuch as the fan-shaped paper influenced the direction for my study of tiger body painting (okay, it ‘took over’ the project) the project did advance my understanding of body stripes and facial markings.  That was intended to be blog post part 2 on tiger, and so it shall be.  Unless of course another ‘happy accident’ should intervene!






This entry was posted in Chinese Brush Painting, painting tiger, paper trials. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fan-dancing with the tiger

  1. TW says:

    Have you completed any other paintings of full-grown tigers?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s