Fragrant Refuge

Fragrant Refuge

38.5 cm x 47 cm; watercolour on cotton rice paper; 2016

Blog Post 3

Here’s one of my paintings of the Chinese Wisteria–the most floriferous and  fragrant of all varieties of Wisteria.  In this composition, I painted its flower-laden vines being visited by its best friends, the birds and the bees. Imagine–it must be a Fragrant Refuge.

This was my sequence of painting this beautiful woody vine:  bunches of flowers with terminal buds; old and young vines;  old and young leaves, stamens and pistil (represented by dots) below the petals; and then lastly, the swallows and the honey bees.

Here are some basic techniques to paint the flowers:

  • Use the outward-to-inward strokes to paint two-toned petals.
  • Use a large, white brush to paint bunched flowers which face different directions.
  • Since Wisteria is a member of the Pea Family, its  flowers look just like pea flowers–with large top petals, and elongated lower petals bearing the pistil and stamens. Note: The lower petals are not identical. One is always longer and wider than the other.
  • Load the brush with any of the following colours: lavender (a mixture of flower red and stone blue), pink, red, and light blue. Then, dip its tip into white poster colour.
  • When still damp, add the centre of the flower–dragged dots (elongated, not round dots) of light green or poster yellow. These represent areas where the pistil and stamens are located.
  • Connect the flowers and buds with a small brush loaded with yellow-green.
  • Review: The upper portion of each raceme has a lighter colour while its lower portion has a distinct colour– whether lavender, pink, red, or light blue.

To paint the Wisteria leaf, I observed my vigorously growing 2.5-month-old Wisteria given by Prof Lim. Look. It has many opposite leaflets per leaf. But, it is acceptable to  represent its essence by painting just 5 or 7 leaflets per leaf.

Wisteria 2.5 months.jpg

Here are more tips on how to paint the Wisteria leaf:

  • The biggest leaflet grows from the tip of the midrib. The smaller ones grow from the sides of the midrib in opposite directions .
  • Use a small, brown brush for young leaves, and a big one for old ones.
  • For young leaves at the tip of the vine: Load the brush with avocado green (a mixture of rattan yellow and green), then dip its tip in rouge.
  • When young leaves are still damp, paint the veins with a thin, stiff brush loaded with dark rouge.
  • For mature leaves: Load the brush with dark green (a mixture of rattan yellow and green), then dip its tip in flower blue. Two outward strokes from the leaf base  can define the leaf midrib.
  • When leaves are still damp, paint the veins with a thin, stiff brush loaded with dark ink.

To paint delicate terminal buds:

  • Paint two-toned front and lateral buds growing from the raceme. Use a darker shade of the opened flower’s colour.
  • Buds should have rounded tips.
  • To paint the sepals of the buds, load a thin brush with light green, then dip its tip  in dark rouge.

To paint the vines:

  • For old vines: Load a large bamboo brush with umber, then dip its tip in ink.
  • For young vines: Load a medium or thin bamboo brush with yellow-green, then dip its tip it in umber.
  • Paint thick, knotty  old vines intertwined at random with young vines.

To paint the flying swallows, showing its back and side views:


  • Sequence of painting: eye, beak, head,shoulder, wings, body, and tail.
  • Use vermillion to paint the following parts: area before the eye, throat, below the tail, legs, and feet.
  • Use a fine brush to paint the bird’s face.
  • Use a large bamboo brush to paint all other parts of the bird: body, wings, and tail. Load the brush with just enough water, then dip its tip in dark ink.
  • When still damp, paint a blue sheen on the body using poster cobalt blue. This paint is shinier than peacock blue, a colour  which is somewhat purple.
  • Abdomen should be poster white.
  • Review: The body should be spindle-shaped.
  • Wings should be three-layered; 1st: short, smooth feathers near the shoulder area; 2nd: short feathers lined before the edge of the terminal feather wings; and 3rd: long ,terminal feather wings. Paint two-toned terminal feather wings.
  • In flight, bird legs should be retracted, and feet digits should be held back tightly together. Paint knotty  feet digits.
  • Paint a scissor-like tail, with inward terminal points.
  • Note: The upper swallow’s left wing was corrected. Its colour was lightened because they show the inner wing feathers.

To paint bees:

  • Load a thin, stiff brush with dark ink and paint two dots (eyes) and a round, hairy body.
  • Load a medium white brush with rattan yellow, then dip its tip in umber. Paint an elongated stomach. When still damp, add strips of dark  ink along the length of the stomach.
  • To paint transparent wings, load a small white brush with very light ink. Paint the 2 sets of wings attached to the body. Wings near the head should be longer and wider than those near the stomach.
  • Load a thin stiff brush with dark ink and paint the 2 short antennae and the jointed legs.
  • Paint a swarm of bees in groups.

Bees in groups

There–that’s a sample of a painting composition with three interacting figures: a woody and floriferous vine; a pair of flying swallows, and a group of hovering bees. Indeed, this is a difficult composition because of the details to be done. But–it can teach you a lot of painting skills which you need in your future paintings. But then, is it a difficult task which is uncalled for? From my point of view: Definitely, not so. Let me remind you of one of the truisms which serve as guideposts of the art of Chinese brush painting:

“If you aim to dispense with method, learn method; if you aim at facility, work hard; if you aim for simplicity, master complexity.”–Lu Ch’ai (Wang Kai), Master of Ch’ing Tsai T’ang, XVII Century.









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