The Mise En Place of Color in Chinese Painting

Silver hibiscus by Ning Yeh. Silver color for the flowers is created by mixing Sakura white with Best Bottle Ink


The "Mise En Place" of Chinese Painting

Before a short filmed painting session with my father, I noticed the impeccable condition of his colors. I asked him how long he usually takes preparing his color before he paints. The answer was 30 minutes. I thought to myself, "that seems reasonable."

Then, I thought to myself, when was the last time I spent 30 minutes preparing my colors for painting. The reality is that other than sitting in my father's class where he walks us through the color preparation as a group, I never spend that amount of time preparing my colors.

I then thought about my last practice session when I was having moisture control problems with my strokes. I realized that my moisture control problems were really color preparation problems. I had not taken enough time to work my colors to the proper intensity. What looked like moisture control problems really were linked to hurried color preparation.

Bleeding problems from my last practice session traced to hurriedly prepared Chinese Chip Colors. Initially I thought this was purely a moisture control problem

Chefs have a french phrase they use called "mis en place" which loosely translated means "everything in its place." What this means is that before a professional chef will cook, they take the time to make sure all their ingredients are prepared.

Vegetables are cut, oil is measured, spices are prepared and everything is laid out in an organized fashion ready for cooking. When you take the time to prepare like this, it transforms the experience of cooking to a focused almost meditative act. This is in stark contrast to the chaos of trying to do everything on the fly.

The Right Lesson for the Right Artist

This concept is really for those of us who have already developed a painting habit. We have painted regularly enough that the areas of potential improvement are becoming clear. We have also taken the step to use color in painting. If this applies to you, then take note of these color preparation tips.

If you are not at this stage, then establishing a painting habit is the priority. Do not allow a more involved color preparation process to be an excuse to avoid painting. For you, you can use the convenience of things like bottled ink and OAS' Ideal Companion color set to squeeze painting sessions into a busy lifestyle.

Mise En Place Color Preparation Tips

  • Ning Yeh's color palette is a mix of the best Asian colors and western watercolors. It has been thoroughly tested on rice paper and wet mounting. If you are looking for a way to get started with this color palette, check out this color set.
  • Make sure colors are mixed to the proper intensity. In most of Ning Yeh's instruction, he will mention if the color is supposed to be thick like cream or thinner like milk
  • Having the proper accessories makes color preparation much easier. Don't underestimate the value of porcelain flower plates, stackable dishes, and mixing brushes
  • If you are using Chinese Chip colors, take the extra time to really work the color to the right intensity. Out of the box, you will often need to add a small amount of very warm water to the chips in a porcelain dish and work the color out of them with a mixing brush to the right consistency before you paint.
  • Once you have your colors prepared, try painting until the amount of tube colors that you've chosen to prepare are totally exhausted. Fresh colors produce the best results and once you've taken the time to prepare colors well, you may as well produce as many paintings as possible to make the most out of your preparation work.

By employing these tips, we hope you can take the next step of your journey though the joy of Chinese Brush Painting.


Artist improvement

Leave a comment