• Creatively Asian

Chinese Painting: A Forgotten Tradition

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

I stare at my computer in frustration; Amazon stares back at me on my screen, full of digital tablets and price tags. Instagram is pulled up on my phone with my favorite digital artists’ posts flooding my feed. I think, “How can I become a great digital artist like these people?”

I look at my old iPad, too outdated to support an Apple Pencil. I tried painting with my finger, but it doesn’t let me have the control I want. I don’t have the money for a new iPad, and my searches for cheaper, similar pens end with no avail. My frustration only grows. I worry that I will never be a great artist.

In this age of technology, digital art has grown in popularity, especially with programs geared toward art such as Photoshop, Procreate, and Clip Studio Paint. Artists have flocked to social media to post their digital creations, ranging from sketches with simple colors to elaborate and detailed paintings. Inspired by the countless digital art speedpaints I’ve seen on YouTube, I decided that I wanted to be a digital artist, too. I thought I absolutely needed some fancy technology like a Wacom tablet or an iPad Pro, both too pricey for me to get.

Recently, however, I visited an art store and came across traditional sumi-e painting sets (sumi-e is a type of East Asian calligraphy). Alongside the sets were various types of sumi paper and inkstones. I suddenly remembered receiving a Chinese calligraphy set containing traditional paintbrushes and a step-by-step tutorial book when I was younger. I remember how I would flip through the book with enthusiasm, admiring the brush strokes and the simplicity of the example paintings. I loved the strong bamboo stalks, the sweeping, delicate orchids, and the flowing fins of a goldfish. I was too young back then to truly appreciate the simplicity of traditional Chinese paintings, but now I realize that I have gotten so caught up in trying to become a digital artist, I have completely forgotten how excited I used to be about painting traditionally--Chinese style or not.

This isn’t to say that I’m giving up on digital art--I simply needed the reminder of the joy I felt when painting traditionally, and that expensive or more elaborate doesn’t always mean better. I don’t need an $800 dollar iPad Pro to make digital art. I don’t need to add a million details for a piece to be amazing. I can appreciate both digital and traditional art, and I can strive to be better at both, regardless of what I have or don’t have. To every creative Asian: art is always beautiful, regardless of style, the materials used, or complexity. Don’t limit yourselfnever stop creating!

This is one of my favorite sumi-e galleries: https://www.sumi-e.it/en/gallery/

Written by Elizabeth Bowie and edited by Kathy Ye of the Writing Committee.