Category Archives: Miniatures

When do you call yourself an artist?

A creative streak comes naturally to me. It shows itself in my home decorating, in my bright colored and stylish clothing, shoes and purses, and all the creative avenues that I’ve partaken in – such as sewing, crocheting knitting macramé, embroidery, cross stitching, cooking and cookbook writing, video blogging and for a very long time, about a lifetime ago, Dollhouseminiatures. During that period of creating I won many ribbons for my miniature projects, mostly from scratch.  

Does being creative give you the right to call yourself an artist? Suddenly I have that question in my mind.

Are you a creative, do you call yourself an artist?

Over the past 3 1/2 years, I turn the corner on my creativity. I can give credit to Jennifer. It all started when my daughter fell in love with the art of Romero Brito. Spontaneously, I took out my markers (because as a teacher with experience in primary school education, you always have markers. Teaching students a language requires the use of the philosophy that using art to draw concepts cements the vocabulary). I put together a drawing, trying to emulate his work. One month later, after returning from Sri Lanka, the vision of the palm trees on the beaches of the Indian Ocean were still in my brain. So one day without forethought, I sketched a palm tree. It was lame as it was, but it started the whole ball rolling.

A few months later I went to Italy. As a lone female traveler, I decided to go the safe route and take a six-day workshop with an artist in the north of Tuscany. When a friend Peter saw my Italy sketches, he beamed, asking me if I would draw sketches of the tea making process for his book about Tea in China. Was the Pope Catholic, I thought? I jumped at the opportunity. It gave me a focus for my art because at that point when I was flitting around with Zentangle Art and Mandalas and other topics with no real focus. 

Pizza Oven In Italy sketch

Pizza Oven In Italy sketch

One of the 25 sketches of the tea making process in China

One of the 25 sketches of the tea making process in China

Peter designed my first Chinese Chop with the characters that said “LiZhi (my name Lichee in Chinese), Artist”.

Could I call myself an artist then? Well honestly no, I couldn’t, although I continue to use the stamp to this day. 

My Chinese Chop

My Chinese Chop

Knowing that I didn’t have enough knowledge and experience about watercolor painting, I attended a weekly Kunming art studio for over a year and got a good grip on how to paint realistic art with watercolors. Learning to see the colors, color mixing, shading, shadows, I tried to learn everything. The owner of the studio offered to do a 2-day art exhibition of all of my paintings and sketches (35 in total) — and it was a huge success. Around that time a friend bought one of my favourite Chinese paintings also. 

Could I call myself an artist after that? Crazy as it sounds, no, I knew I still had a lot to learn.

Getting back to teacher art and markers, my proclivity is to small, meticulous details with paper and fine liners and pencils and markers and ink and erasers and rulers in drawings (maybe I should have been an architect, and I do love perspective, which I’m not terribly good at until now). But I still wanted to continue to stretch my skill, watching YouTube and Craftsy videos of artists teaching painting or sketching techniques. Also attending sketching workshops in Florida helped to improve my experience. (Do you see the theme here of travel and art in my life??)

Bradenton, Florida workshop 2-page spread

Bradenton, Florida workshop 2-page spread

Quite recently I developed an interest in having a more loose style. I spent the morning painting with an artist named Dan Whalen, who goes out with the Toronto Urban Sketchers group, because I really like his freer style of sketching and painting. I knew that if I wanted to try to go out sketching on location again, I would have to have that kind of style too. Why, because you don’t have enough time to finish when you’re out, so you need to be quick, and expressive in your sketching, representing the scene in front of you, all before the rain comes or the sun gets too hot or the shadows move.

Just two weeks ago, I met a lovely Singaporean artist, Beng Choo. She is an experienced artist and we have started the Urban Sketchers Kunming group in Kunming China. We meet every Friday morning and have sketched some wonderful ancient Chinese buildings while dodging the rain and the hot sun.

Then binge watching Ian Fennelly videos has really motivated me. Will I go to the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Hong Kong in April and take a class with Marc Taro Holmes because I’m a 1.5 hour flight away, or to Venice in May for 6 days and learn from Ian? I am considering it all. Because my art has moved away from a very detail-oriented style to towards a more expressive style. 

In my quest to learn all I can, and with an art school within a 5-minute walk from my home, I just began a 10-week course, ‘Song Dynasty Chinese Painting on Silk’, which uses traditional Chinese black ink and painting techniques but with Kuretake watercolour paints. The process is very slow and detailed, with many steps so far. I have only learned how to paint the outlines on silk with ink and how to mount and stretch the silk onto a wooden frame. My teacher, Peng, says it takes 10 2-hour classes to complete, but that I am a fast learner!!!!

[Starting in 960 and ending in 1279, the Song Dynasty consisted of the Northern Song (960-1127) and the Southern Song (1127-1279). With a prosperous economy and radiant culture, this period was considered as another period of ‘golden age’ after the glorious Tang Dynasty (618 – 907).]

My first painting will be a copy of a Song Dynasty painting of crab apple flowers and my background is a soft beige colour, not this dark, boring colour.

Song Dynasty Crab Apple Flowers

Original silk painting of Song Dynasty crab apple flowers

 

Do I have the right to call myself an artist now? Have l earned that right yet? I guess the answer is I have to feel it in my heart, and my heart tells me that I am able to represent the feelings I have when I do art so much better than when I first embarked on my art journey a time ago. Stay tuned for more on the answer!

1:144 Scale Chinese Buildings

Before getting deeply into the big project, the Chinese Tea House, I decided it would be good for me to ‘reactivate’ my rusty mini-skills such as painting, gluing, cutting, sanding and attention to details, those skills that I haven’t used for 10 years. So I made these wooden slot and tab building kits. The ancient styles include a Chinese Opera Theatre, a Chinese Tea House, a Chinese Silk Factory and a Chinese Inn or Hotel.

4 completed buildings

4 completed buildings

As good as they were when completed, they lacked a certain authenticity because of the exposed edges and the slots and tabs not being painted.

Ancient Chinese Opera Theatre

Ancient Chinese Opera Theatre

Ancient Chinese Inn

Ancient Chinese Inn

Ancient Chinese Silk Factory

Ancient Chinese Silk Factory

Ancient Chinese Tea House

Ancient Chinese Tea House

I worked to match the paint colours and painted the blue-grey and the brown exposed edges and white spots. Now I feel much better about their looking more authentic than before.

Ancient Chinese Inn Edges Painted

Ancient Chinese Inn Edges Painted

Ancient Chinese Silk Factory Edges Painted

Ancient Chinese Silk Factory Edges Painted

Ancient Chinese Opera Theatre Edges Painted

Ancient Chinese Opera Theatre Edges Painted

Last touch will be to paint the off white parts. Another job for another day.

Miniature Chinese Tea House Plank Flooring & Pu’er Tea Cakes

Ramblings on the Slow and Steady Progress of My Chinese Tea House

I received my order of 1,000 Starbuck’s wooden stir sticks to make the wood plank flooring. Good thing it was that much since more than half the sticks are wonky in some way, not straight or not flat.

After sorting enough sticks for the floor, I weighted them down with a board so that they could flatten even more (it’s the rainy season right now in Kunming, China) so the humidity should have some positive effect.

weighing down the sorted wooden sticks

Weighing down the sorted wooden sticks

Seeing how everything looks so far

Seeing how everything looks so far

As for the knock-off PaperClay, it’s fine. It dried well, it stuck to the board and it only shrank a little. No cracking, which is a good thing. I’ve decided when I start to do the brick walls, I will do sections horizontally. Need to measure off the horizontal rows and use my long metal ruler to carve the horizontal lines of bricking. Then go on to carve the vertical lines for the brick. My bricks will be 1″ x .25″ and will simulate the Beijing brick which is longer and thinner than Western bricks. 

Then I also need the Pu’er Tea Cakes that are wrapped in tissue paper with a round label. I’m trying out different colours and textures of fine tissue to see what’s the most realistic.

Wrapping the disks of Pu'er tea

Wrapping the disks of Pu’er tea

Real Pu'er tea cake - a 7 inch round wrapped disk of compressed tea

Real Pu’er tea cake – a 7 inch round wrapped disk of compressed tea

So much to do! I’ll keep you posted.

A Miniature Tea House in the Beginning

The facts about my miniature 1/12th TeaHouse:

  • I haven’t done a miniature project in 10 years.
  • I’ve dreamt about this project or one just like it for most of those years.
  • I’ve been slowly and diligently collecting small bits of tools or supplies from Toronto.
  • I recently met a Canadian architect and creative soul who’s encouraged me to follow my passion – after all this time.
  • In spite of the fact that there’s no Michael’s Craft Store or a hardware store like Home Depot, I have managed to begin the process of building a Chinese Tea House. The things that are underlined below are things that I have had to search high and low for because they are not sold where you would assume them to be sold.


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  • It all started a few weeks ago when I found a recipe for air-drying clay using cornstarch which turned out the be only moderately good for making tea cakes that are 7″ in diameter (less than 3/4″ in 1:12th). I need hundreds of them for a real tea shop and found artist’s air drying clay at an art store that I hope will turn out better. But yesterday was a water-shed day! I got my hands on (actually had to order it from Taobao.com because it’s not sold in any stores I went to) regular white craft glue and found a somewhat similar board to gator board to build the structure. That night I did a test of a small piece to see the board’s ability to accept the white glue and remain well glued together.
  • It worked after I tried again using a combo of white craft glue and super glue. I finally found a tough cutting knife and a large set square or whatever that long ruler that grabs onto the end of the board at right angles is called. So I’m on the way!
  • Now the box is built because I finally found a box of straight pins (also from Taobao.com to use to nail in all the pieces of gator board to make the room box shell very strong), and I’m making the window for a partition in the back of the tea house and the rest will slowly materialize.
    • Roombox ready to decorateAugust, 2015 – This week I finally got some knock-off Creative PaperClay to make the bricks for inside and outside.
    • Today I had time to make a sample of this knock-off air drying clay.
    • Rolling out the paper clay between two sticks

      Rolling out the paper clay between two sticks

      spread out the glue with a credit card

      spread out the glue with a credit card

      or glue to the PaperClay

      or glue to the PaperClay

      Score the brick lines with a credit card or metal ruler, and the short lines with a thin strip of credit card

      Score the brick lines with a credit card or metal ruler, and the short lines with a thin strip of credit card

      Use a stiff-bristle brush to age the surfaces

      Use a stiff-bristle brush to age the surfaces

      the finished sample

      the finished sample

      I’ll have to wait a day to see the results of the test. Does the clay adhere to the gatorboard? Will the clay crack when it dries? Is it really paintable?

Taiwan Review – Chinese Architecture in Miniature

Taiwan Review – Chinese Architecture in Miniature.

Miniature Dead Fish Carcass on the Cutting Board

I think this is amazing. My friend Leslie made this dead fish carcass (after being filleted with a filleting knife sharpened with a sharpening iron) for presents for a miniature luncheon some of my friends are going to in Niagara Falls. It’s customary to bring a little miniature project as a gift to an event of all miniaturists. There will be forty people at the event.

For those of you who were wondering, in China restaurants serve the fish whole and you take off the meat in bite-sized chunks from the bones at the table.

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