August 13, 2021

Manual of Landscape Painting

         Jiezi yuan hua zhuan, Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden, is a manual for traditional landscape painting published in China in 1679.  It had five parts, covering general principles, trees, hills and stones, people and houses, and selected examples of great works.  Okay, so why am I telling you about a painting manual when this is a blog about printmaking?  Well, because the book itself was printed, of course, and is an early example of color printing in China.  
        Like most early wood block prints from both Asia and Europe, printmaking is being used here as a method of reproducing another medium, rather than as a medium in its own right.  The washes of transparent ink are printed so as to look as if they were painted on with a brush, and the varying widths of the black lines are also imitating the effect of brushwork.  However, despite my muttered prejudices about not taking advantage of the unique and beautiful characteristics of relief printing, this is a lovely little piece.  The rocks are dramatic, yet shaded in soothing tones, the little buildings give scale, but don’t detract from the sense of nature, and the trees show a pleasing variety of trunks and leaves.
        Would you like to be able to paint trees like this yourself?  Simply study part two of this handy painting manual, and you will soon master the necessary skills.  Here’s a page from that second section, with several different representative styles of leaves and branches.  This is a much later edition, and this page, at least, doesn’t have the polychrome inking of the lavish painting reproduction.Since I can’t read the instructions that go along with the illustrations, I don’t know what the authors are saying about how to make these happy little trees, but I do like the different patterns, as well as the suggestion of scale in the three clumps of trees on the right: different levels of detail for differences in distance.  I’m sure I could do worse than to study this myself, next time I need some inspiration for a block print including elements of landscape.

[Pictures: A page from the Jie Zi Yuan, polychrome woodblock print of the original painting by Qing Ji, 1679 (Image from The Met Museum);

Pages of leaves and trees from Mustard Seed Garden, woodblock printed book, 1782 (Image from Brooklyn Museum).]

No comments: