I have several books, some of which I’ve had for years, which are like my “bibles” of my experiences in Asian art. I began Sumie painting when I was a teenager. I sent away for a correspondence course in Sumi painting from Horseshoe, North Carolina, from an Asian artist somewhere in the mountains. One of the books that everyone should study for Asian art (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Far Eastern Art) is “The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting” by Chieh Tzu Yüan Hua Chuan.
In this book, I learned through the different diagrams of paintings about the Asian sense of space in their paintings. Essentially, everything in the picture gets more prominent as it goes further into the composition. This design is the opposite of the Western perspective, where objects in the painting tend to get smaller the further back they are in the painting or drawing. In the Chinese paintings, the people look very small compared to the nature surrounding them.
The next book in my collection is “Principles of Chinese Painting” by George Rowley. Now, this book has a lot of text in it. And that’s because there is a lot of analysis of concepts and ideas of Chinese painting. There is an example of a “little house” and a “big mountain,” where we begin to understand how tiny human beings are in relationship to the world. In another painting, we see how subtle the earth is represented in painted form. There is much abstraction in the painting. So much of the abstract art we think of here in the West as being so innovative, the Chinese were doing centuries before.
Overall, Rowley’s book is very good at getting up close and finding sections of paintings to show off the techniques therein. In general, this is something we don’t see as much in Western art. Showing pieces of paintings or little sections with rock textures, for example. Overlapping planes are an essential part of Chinese and Japanese painting.
“The Sumi-E Book” by Yolanda Mayhall is a book designed to help learn the most basic strokes of Japanese ink painting. I like this book because it’s simple and direct in showing people, animals, and objects and how simply they may be rendered in a painting. In some cases, with just one or two brush strokes! In painting in this Semi-E style, I find I’m drawing as much as I’m painting. It’s a very handy book and simple to follow.