Each stroke, each feather, each thought

Initially, the purpose of this series was to deeply appreciate the beauty of nature and share it with the viewers. Throughout the creative process, I have always embraced the technical challenges of watercolour, colour, composition, and more. The second challenge comes from my inner world. Creating art is a decision-making process that requires me to remain focused. The dilemma is, when I am uncertain about a decision, how to overcome self-doubt and maintain focus. As an artist, the joy of progress is found in this second challenge. After making a stroke, even if I am worried that the painting is ruined, I often choose not to "correct" it. I give a little trust to the previous decision. Through these paintings, I hope to share this experience with my viewers.

My inspiration comes from the beautiful nature, especially the land of Australia where I have lived for ten years. Also, the Eastern and Western paintings, traditional Chinese bird and flower paintings and Japanese woodblock prints have given me a lot of inspiration for composition. Watercolour possesses a vitality and wisdom that continues to instruct me, and it will always remain my mentor.

At ease 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Rough paper

40 cm x 30 cm

This is the first piece in the series. I spent a lot of time in the country in December and January, and had the opportunity to see many birds every day. The creative process of each painting varies, but one method I often use is to start with small thumbnail sketches, then do extensive reference research and study(oftenly, I combine multiple references into one design), create a colour palette, practice details, and finally begin painting, continuously thinking and refining until completion. I'm very satisfied with many aspects of this work. The most satisfying part was the abstract strokes used to draw the leaves, which perfectly captured the joyful mood of seeing this bird every time.

Attentive 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Rough paper

40 cm x 30 cm

This is the third design of the Laughing Kookaburra (the second one was not successful). That week, I revisited some Eastern bird and flower paintings at the NGV and then sketched out this design. That evening, I spent a long time drawing a complete sketch based on my design and several reference photos. I don't always finish the drawing before starting to paint on watercolour paper, but this process helped me recover from the frustration of the failure of the second design. The Laughing Kookaburra stands on a high branch looking down, so I tried to simplify the lower part of the picture and emphasise the sense of space. I think at that moment, the bird was alert and curious.

Cozy 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Rough paper

29 cm x 21 cm

In this piece, in addition to the Scarlet robin, what attracted me was the shape and warmth of the tree stump - I wanted people who saw it to feel the warm sensation of the stump being bathed in sunlight. The background was completed with 2-3 strokes of wash, and the shape was designed to echo the tree stump. I must really like this tree stump. So, I followed my feelings and didn't fuss too much with the painting. When I saw the red diffuse, it naturally formed the effect of the feathers on the robin's chest, and I knew that watercolour was creating on its own, and I didn't need to add a single stroke.

Dew 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Rough paper

29 cm x 21 cm

This painting was created based on a photo taken by a photographer friend that I know. I haven't had the chance to ask where the photo was taken, but I think I know the place, and the Cisticola I remember looked just like this.

This small bird, almost like a sparrow, stands on a slender, ribbon-like blade of grass, like a dancer on stage, surrounded by a hazy, moist green. I started with a lively wash and ended with careful strokes to depict a tiny dewdrop next to the bird’s leg. It brings a smile to my face.

Gaze 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Rough paper

20 cm x 29 cm

This is a piece of work that represents my understanding of traditional Eastern painting. Of course, I am very aware that my medium is watercolour, so I try to maximize its characteristics. The large mop brush quickly strokes the rough watercolour paper surface, and the inadvertent white space is carefully preserved, creating highlights or leaving them as abstract white space in the later stage. After the initial wash, I returned to the Eastern painting method and outlined the tree leaves in a calligraphy style. To respond to the energy of the Flycatcher, I added an insect on the branch it was facing

Devoid 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

31 cm x 22 cm

It took me a long time contemplating the Butcherbird. I wet the paper and let it dry twice, but I was still unsure how to start. The Butcherbird is mostly black, white, and grey, so I decided to use minimalist brushstrokes and background design to integrate the bird with the tree trunk. Rather than making a decision, it's more like I didn't have a second option for painting it. The butcherbird is singing and exudes a sense of strength, so the trunk also had to appear robust. I counted every stroke in my mind and didn't go back to make changes.

Observe 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

28 cm x 22 cm

In my opinion, Shriketit's features are a bit comical, which makes me want to laugh when I look at it. In addition to that, the motivation behind creating this painting is also the colours and composition. My initial wash was quite adventurous because red and green are complementary colours, which could easily result in a muddy gray. I learned a lot of lessons from the characteristics of watercolour. When painting with watercolour, if I am worried about a stroke or wash and am not sure exactly what to do, it is better to just observe it. Blindly manipulating it leads to the worst results, while letting it be natural is not too bad. I don't intend to convey my values to others, but just describe my painting and artistic process.

Cocoon 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

31 cm x 22 cm

I love the combination of orange and green. The Rufous Fantail provided me with the perfect opportunity to explore this colour combination. I played with different shades, temperatures, and values of green around the bird. I enjoyed mixing greens so much that I felt a bit guilty towards the Rufous Fantail itself. From what I know, it's a shy bird compared to its bolder cousin Grey Fantail. I think it must love the secluded, green environment that I created in the painting.

Enchant 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

30 cm x 22 cm

This Red-capped robin was an unexpected success. Before I painted it, I was (once again) trying to adjust my state of mind, with the aim of expressing my emotions with watercolours, rather than being bound by "how to paint" ideas. Sensitivity and thinking, or emotion and skill, I wish both to be acute and reach a certain balance. With this red-capped robin, I hope you see how I was moved: the dazzling red dominates the vision, as if no other colour matters; and the soft white body makes me feel like the little bird is standing on my hand, becoming a cloud.

Boundless 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Rough paper

32 cm x 23 cm

I go outdoors almost every day. There are always various water birds in the small river near my home. The Purple Swamphen is probably the least timid one. Maybe because I am very familiar with it, I can relax and use watercolours more freely. In fact, I think the main subject of this painting is the watercolour itself. The birds provide an opportunity for me to showcase the versatile nature of watercolour through colours and shapes.

Slumber 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

30 cm x 22 cm

In March we went to Adelaide. In the Botanic Garden, I looked around and observed what kind of birds I would see, as I always do. Very excited, I pointed to the treetops and almost shouted out, "Look, flying foxes!" It was a warm afternoon, they lazily hung on the branches, enjoying the early autumn sunshine.

Slumber no.2 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

40 cm x 30 cm

Sometimes, after finishing a piece of artwork and feeling satisfied with the result, I still feel like there's more to be done. Javi's amazement at the wings of the flying foxes influenced me. I noticed how unique, wonderful, and fragile they are! Most precious things are like that. From my own experience, the passion for creating is also like the wings of a flying fox. The most precious things are worth protecting with all our might.

Cadence 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

44 cm x 30 cm

I remember sitting on the grass as night fell and the performance on the stage had begun. We were in WOMAdelaide. Perhaps affected by the night and music, flocks of flying foxes danced in the sky. It seemed as though their flight was in sync with the rhythm of the music. Originally, I had wanted to create a piece with a glowing stage in the night sky, with a group of flying foxes flying above it. But the longer I thought about it, the more I felt like I could eliminate the stage and make the flying foxes the sole focus of the piece.

Anticipate 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

43 cm x 30 cm

This was an experimental process where I first designed the rough idea with a pencil, then used Photoshop to complete the composition with different references, and finally worked with paper. Photoshop was a new tool in my paintings. I was glad I tried this, and it will be a useful method/tool to try again in the future. However, most of the time, it's only by laboriously using a pencil on paper to slowly draw even the most mundane things that can activate my brain or make my inner feelings clearer. As for this piece itself, the bold use of large brushes and quickly completing the painting without hesitation is what excites me the most.

Catch 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

25 cm x 20 cm

International Artists Magazine's editor invited me to participate in a challenge to create freely based on a reference image of a snake sculpture in a park. I thought about how to interpret the snake theme, and because I was painting birds at the time, I thought why not paint a female darter, also known as a snake bird. The colour of the female bird could correspond to the snake. I searched for a lot of material and felt the different dynamics of the darter. Finally, I decided to use a dark background to highlight the bird's slender white neck and white reflection on the equally dark water surface, trying to connect it with the impression of the white snake. From an anatomical perspective, the bird is not very accurate because there are many imaginative elements in it, but I don't think that matters.

Hide and seek 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

21 cm x 17 cm

This small sketch is my second response to International Artists Magazine's challenge, and it has three meanings. At the time, I was reading a book by British artist Judi Whitton, who explained the concept of a vignette and how to paint it. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the composition of Eastern painting, especially the use of white space, can echo Western painting. So this sketch was intentionally designed as a vignette. The white snake sculpture in the reference image gave me a sense of childishness and friendliness. So I added my own imagination and drew a little girl playing hide-and-seek with the snake behind the tree. Lastly, it was a reminder to myself to always approach painting with a playful attitude and to have fun with it.

Flow 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

43 cm x 113 cm

I don't remember how I decided to paint this unusual format. The morning sunlight would shine directly on the left side of my workspace. This wasn't usually a problem until I start to paint on a paper that was over a meter wide. The bright sunlight reflecting on the left side of the paper made it difficult to work for two to three hours. My solution was to paint from right to left, avoiding the direct sunlight. I thought of Gauguin's "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" for some reason. Perhaps that's why I designed a bit of conflict in the middle of the painting. Maybe, just like in life, there are always dramas in the process, but nothing stops the flow.

Whirlpool 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

43 cm x 113 cm

After 13 seagulls, I wanted to keep going. This time, I wanted a more messy composition where the seagulls flew in different directions - which also meant taking risks. In fact, I thought this design had failed at one point, until I kept adjusting the composition and my own mindset, and finally accepted the result with joy. There was some energy that I felt, and it was really important for me to explore it and express it in this painting.

Coasting 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

30 cm x 40 cm

After completing the previous two paintings, a total of 26 flying seagulls, I examined the sketches in my visual diary. There were two or three more ideas that interested me. I don't do many landscape paintings, but I sketched the Melbourne skyline two years ago. Why not combine it with seagulls? That's how the composition of this painting came about. The seagull on the right directly came from one in Flow (see if you can find which one!). I believe that painting is like building with blocks, where elements can be freely combined to create different designs. I intentionally did not paint their eyes. Their wings are the part I wanted to emphase.

Equilibrium 2023

Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper

30 cm x 40 cm

Since seeing Watanabe Shotei’s(1851-1918) plovers, I have been drawn to its interesting composition. This fourth seagull painting is my response to that inspiration. In terms of perspective and colour(I am fascinated by the Australian sun-drenched light), I must admit the influence of another artist on me: Joaquin Sorolla(1863-1923) of Spain. This is the last of four seagull paintings, and the only one emphasising their stillness rather than their flying posture. Perhaps using white space to depict the beach is a bit strange, but it is the manifestation of my obsession with negative space, and it’s better that I let it be.

© Copyright Qing Zhang