One doesn’t expect a Chinese Master brush painter to be named Bob Schmitt. But one of the things Bob emphasized in his lecture/demo was to be open to following the unexpected. And he made it very easy to follow him to new creative places. Here is a list of phrases pulled from his presentation:
Practice, practice, practice (Zen tradition)
Be easy with what comes
The best things you’ll learn are in the mistakes you make
It’s about energy
Reproduce the spirit of the work you emulate
Work with the materials
Work with and in the now
Use both dominant and non-dominant hands
After explaining his own call and long practice of brush painting, Bob started talking about materials. He pulled the tools back to their essentials: rock, bark, soot, stick, animal fat, and animal hair. The paper is made from mulberry bark and used in its raw form, with no sizing. (Most of the commercial brush painting paper you buy is sized. Bob is a local source for unsized paper.) The ink stick is made of wood soot and animal fat. The brush is a stick with animal hair attached. All the basic tools are made from natural items. He paints on a felt pad of 100% wool; as students we used pads of about 30% wool. The wool content is needed to absorb moisture.
During the workshop, participants worked on a one-stroke enso. Enso is the Japanese word for circle. A single circle is full of infinite possibilities. In cultures around the world the circle stands for many different things; sun, moon, face, infinity, life, etc. I think it safe to say, none of the colleagues circles looked the same—perhaps similar, but not the same. Bob showed us samples of how he matches text to an enso, ensuring that both expressed the same spirit and/or meaning. The atmosphere buzzed with concentration and joy and each person took home at least four completed circles and some inky fingers.
For those interested in learning more from Bob, contact him at Laughing Waters Studio in Minneapolis.
Website: www.laughingwatersstudio.com or call him at 612-333-1881.