In the realm of Chinese brush painting, less is really more. It has to do with distilling a subject down to its essence. I was given a bit of insight recently from Edythe Newbourne of East Meets West Studio on Marco Island.
“I was a watercolorist,” recounts Newbourne, “and I found myself less and less interested in backgrounds, and consequently leaving more and more of my paper untouched. My husband and I were living in Washington D.C., our children grown, when a friend convinced me to take a Chinese brush painting class. The instructor noticed my work and was very encouraging, and I loved it – it‘s how I saw things.”
Newbourne, who had studied more traditional western art at Platt Institute and Syracuse University in New York, would go on to do graduate studies in the art form that Zen monkshad developed from calligraphy at Zhejian Acadamy in Hang Chow, China. On returning to the U.S. she was accepted into the American Sumi-e Society and began teaching others. I wanted to know more about this ‘distilling’ process (and nooo, not because I’m Irish).
“I call it art of the mind’s eye,” explained Newbourne. “You must plan it carefully because there are no do-overs. Unlike watercolors, the paint is not applied in layers, but in single strokes using deeply saturated pigments. And each stroke must be designed to feature what I call the Star of the show.”
Newbourne works exclusively on rice paper so absorbent that pencil lines cannot be erased or painted over. “You don’t wait for the picture to develop, you must develop it in your head, and then just put your brush down.” Adding that she “loves the feel of brushon paper.”
Interestingly, ceramic artists gravitate toward Newbourne’s classes because the style and motifs work so well in clay.
There is so much more to learn about the tradition: the materials, disciplines, variations from country to country. The good news is Newbourne still teaches classes – by appointment – at her studio on Marco. The really good news is those classes are private and cost about $25. She also teaches at Marco Island Center for the Arts (where she Chairs the Education Committee), Sanibel Big Arts, and various communities throughout Naples.
Tara O’Neill, a lifelong artist, has been an area resident since 1967. She holds Bachelors Degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida, and currently has a studio-gallery at the Artist Colony at the Esplanade on Marco Island. Contact her through www.taraogallery.com