Today I had my second shufa (Chinese calligraphy) and shan shui (landscape painting) class with Bob Schmitt at Laughing Waters Studio. In this session, I worked on joined character strokes, and the simple pine tree. I am not working on dragons yet, but I recently read this compelling story about the creative process, that I want to share:
Kanō Tan’yu [1602-1674] was one of the most famous painters in Japan, and, indeed, was appointed chief of the artists employed by the shogun. Once he was asked by the abbot of the Myoshinji in Kyoto to paint a dragon on the ceiling of the meditation hall. Tan’yu assured the abbot that this would be an easy job; he had painted countless dragons in his career. As they talked and drank tea, however, the abbot said, “But I want a painting of a real dragon. Have you ever seen a real one?” Tan’yu confessed that he hadn’t, and was astonished to hear the abbot then say that there were quite a few right there at the temple. “Come here to meditate,” the abbot instructed him. “You’ll see one after a while.”
Tan’yu agreed and, regardless of his busy schedule, came to meditate at the temple every day. Finally, after three years, he jumped up from the meditation cushion and ran to the abbot. “I saw one! I saw a real dragon today,” he exclaimed. The abbot just looked at him and asked, “What did it say?”
Tan’yu returned quietly to his meditation cushion and continued with concentrated effort. After another three years, he was able to execute one of the most celbrated paintings of a dragon in the Far East.
~ from “The One Tast of Truth” by William Scott Wilson
(painting by Kanō Tan’yu on the ceiling of Myoshinji Temple, Kyoto, Japan)