Bamboo Breakthrough 3: boosts from Ju and something new (bling!)

Paint sessions playing with bamboo continue; the insights seem endless. These are indeed happy days at the art table as my brush surprisingly produces bamboo leaves, clusters and stalks almost on command. Getting them all together in the desired manner still has some challenges.

The reasons for my ongoing fun are many: I continued to explore Professor Ju’s leaf formations (swallow, flying bird and landing bird), I acquired two new brushes at an art show sponsored by local artist/instructor Andy Lou, and I purchased some inks with metallic powder suspended in them. Most of all, I practiced, practiced, practiced.


Ju’s last three leaf formations

In my last post on bamboo I reported on my studies of the numerous  leaf formations presented by I-Hsiung Ju in his wonderful CBP instructional book on bamboo. Having learned how to use a deer horn stem structure to support leaves, then how to place leaves in repeat clusters of set formations, and most importantly, having investigated how real bamboo plants grow, I’ve made great strides with bamboo painting. Fellow artist Ken Lee says I am ‘doing calligraphy’. He means that I’ve reached a threshold where the strokes have become second nature, and my brushwork is not hindered by ‘thinking moments’.

I left off exploring Ju’s categories of leaf formations with three out of his eight yet to try. Before getting into their niceties, I reviewed the last session’s material. My bamboo leaf repertoire so far:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And now to look at Ju’s remaining leaf formations.


Fittingly enough, this first leaf formation named for a bird, is ‘a bird’s eye view of the Between’ according to Ju. Think of looking down at a four-petalled flower, he says. The Swallow formation is used on a short deer-horn, and always in front of the trunk, or close to the trunk. Consider first how two leaves pointing in opposite directions resemble the wings of a bird:


The Swallow formation usually shows five leaves, painted in order: leaf 1 is the bird’s head and appears relatively small and thin; leaf 2 and 3 are slightly larger, and are painted in a similar manner to the goldfish tail, going down, pointing at slight angles to one another; leaf 4 (sometimes omitted, when a cluster is too thick for the space) and leaf 5 are larger leaves pointing outward on slight stems. These last leaves give the bird ‘loft’ and suggest the flight of the bird.


The swallow done on a deer horn going up, then on one going down:

swallowsup  swallowdown

Then a swallow on a sideways deer horn structure:


The swallow done in repeat clusters:



Tips for using the swallow:

1.Give your clusters air and sunlight, i.e. leave white space around them.

2. Do not make the last two leaves (4 and 5) pointing upward too strongly or your bird appears frightened.

3. The swallow appears the same, whether it is on an upward, downward, or sideways deer-horn.

4. Swallows can fly in slightly altered directions.

5. It does not matter which leaves are long and which are short, as long as they are varied

6. Sometimes leaf 4 is omitted

7. Leaf 5 is a prime candidate for the ‘extended tip’ look.


Leaf 5 is a prime candidate for ‘extending’ with a fine line to suggest a dried tip. This technique can look ‘just right’ in some places but at first mine all looked stilted or downright clumsy.  (Must do more!)

While practicing these extended tips I recalled another favorite instructional CBP book (Chinese Painting in Four Seasons by Leslie Tseng-tseng Yu) wherein the artist showed how to use these extended tips to portray wind-tossed bamboo.  I took a few minutes to try and replicate her study page:


Thanks to Ju I now recognize all of these formations as repeats of the ‘goldfish tail’. Thanks to him I know where the three leaves must emerge from the branch and can focus on individual strokes.  It’s tricky to visualize each one and then literally pull it off!  Thank you master painters Ju and Yu! I think I’m getting it!

Landing bird:

This formation is very similar to Swallow, appears on a short deer-horn, and is usually found near the trunk as well. The difference between a ‘landing bird’ and Swallow, is that leaves 4 and 5 appear almost horizontal. Think of your Swallow about to light on a branch; the bird’s legs are extended to reach the branch and its wings push against the air as though it is ‘braking’.


Frightened bird:

Yet another variation of Swallow, this formation is made with a few subtleties: leaf 1 is small and points upward (the bird is startled and looks up quickly to see what danger is afoot). It appears to me that the order for painting in leaves on this formation is reversed from Swallow and landing bird; after establishing the bird’s presence with leaf 1 (the head) you paint wings to either side at slight downward angles, and then two quick leaves 4 and 5. Ju shows the last pair of leaves as either short or long.


Trying to get my inner eye to register differences among these three bird leaf formations, I aimed to paint all three together.  I thought I had two plain swallows on the first branch (on the left) but on second look I realized the higher one had ‘wings’ placed horizontally, not slightly drooped.


This was a good exercise; it reinforced for me what Ju intended as distinctions among his ‘birds’.  The plain swallow has wings (leaf 4 and leaf 5) at slightly lowered angles, landing bird has those leaves almost horizontal, and frightened bird pops his head up above his wings. (You also paint his  wings before the two body strokes.)

Bamboo Bling:

A hockey tournament in Vancouver for number two grandson gave me the opportunity to check out two art shops on my ‘must return’ list. In one I picked up bottles of black ink embedded with silver powder as well as gold, but put the silver back. I’ve had some inspirational red lotus with black leaves edged in gold in my ‘current’ file for sometime and the gold metallic ink thus held greater appeal.

Then a sheet of chartreuse wrapping paper with tiny silver horses caught my eye across the store (I’d seen a pink version of the paper earlier, and although I love horses, could not fathom pink borders with any of my horse compositions!) Instantly I connected a silver frame, wee silver horses running wild in chartreuse borders, and a large black horse with silver-black ink highlighting mane, tail, and all those wonderful horsey muscles….I took both bottles.

The silver-black ink required some experimenting and what better subject than bamboo leaves in the moonlight. (Recently at a Christmas art show I had spied two compositions of white bamboo on black paper with black frames by local artist/instructor Bard Elford. Stunning pieces! Also hugely challenging, as white paint is not as manageable as ink; it globs and brushes don’t hold much.)  I quickly found that the silver gloss appeared over the surface of each leaf and each leaf seemed to be ‘outlined’ in black.  The ink did not dilute to a lighter tone as easily as my regular ink, but the overall effect was promising.


I tied the silver metallic ink  on some bamboo leaf formations I was considering for a large scale bamboo composition in moonlight. Add a black or silver frame,  white matting…maybe even double mat with black?

Bamboo Comps coming soon:

I’ve had numerous bamboo compositions kicking around in my right brain (home of creative thinking) for weeks now. One is a simple one with a moon and cobalt blue sky, another is a swath of red bamboo with two black fish swimming below, and the third is a figure painting of two old men drinking wine under a moon in a bamboo grove. Yes, a whole grove of bamboo with tall canes, new shoots, and lots of leaves, is now on my horizon. Ju’s lessons have given me the courage to ‘think big’ and ‘think bamboo’.

This entry was posted in Chinese Brush Painting, deer horn, painting bamboo. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bamboo Breakthrough 3: boosts from Ju and something new (bling!)

  1. Cindy Thomson says:

    I am really enjoying your bamboo posts and examples. Cindy

    • Hey, Cindy:
      Hope all is on the mend with you and yours.
      I ‘backslid’ over the holidays and am having to regain some of the lost ground in painting bamboo. But it does come back faster, easier…and then every so often something else slides into place. Such fun. Knowledge is power!

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