All that lies in a single cherry tree branch.

Cherry blossoms near Paradeplatz, Zurich, 2023
A spring wind (after Hiroshige), ink, color and gold-leaf flakes on Japanese paper, 2023

All the cherry blossom petals are gone and more and more green leaves are visible every day. All that was left to paint on this year’s cherry blossom composition were the connecting branches.

There is always a small fear creeping up at this stage in any painting. What if that one missing element comes out wrong? What exactly is the right color for the remaining element? Where does this branch start?

Conquering that small fear

Of course the only real risk is that you spoil some paper and have to start all over again. Still, thinking of three days of work gone to waste is not a pleasant feeling.

One way to conquer the small fear is to remove “perceived risk”. I have painted many cherry blossom branches, and could easily advance straight to paper simply by testing the color on the brush, but I choose otherwise. My hand and breath will be more confident if I can consistently produce the effect I am looking for on another sheet of paper.

At first I only test the shape and flow of the branch on any scrap of paper (left image above) but quickly it becomes evident that to be sure of the right ink gradation choice I need to test on the exact same paper I am painting on (the scrap of paper pointed to in the middle of the right image above).

Finding the right color

The exact paper sample doesn’t need to be pristine, any empty corner of an older test sheet (or sheets) will do. A nice gradation, little blur, slightly darker and contrasting with the wind “printing” gradation. I think we have the right stroke now. Which leaves us with the next open question. Where to start?

Start where it matters

A cherry tree branch must come from somewhere, and there is the temptation to start from where you “see” the origin of this particular branch in your mind, to want to control its overall look. But wherever a bird perches, that is where the branch painting should start. This is the one that needs to be “landed” right, and will determine the main connections necessary.

In this case the perching spot runs right over the two “tiles” divide. I need to place the sheets as exactly as possible and keep them fixed while painting.

In my cherry tree, blossom branches have a more or less constant growth rhythm, but certain edges show a lot of short, consecutive growths, usually closest to where the fresh leaves sprout. I keep this in mind when moving the brush further away from the bird. When I started this painting only a few, not fully unfurled leaves where showing and I try to keep that atmosphere here too.

Knowing when to stop

After the branches are done, a few detail brushstrokes add a certain depth. Cherry trees have a particularly shiny bark with a few horizontal streaks visible every so often. Letting the brush run dry before continuing is a good choice to achieve the “shine”. A few black fine lines added just in the right places create the “streaks”.

But, are we done yet? Is the main trunk of the tree visible in the background or not? Are there more blossom clouds, more trees visible in the background? Is there a distant landscape? Is this bird perching in a city tree or mountain tree? Is this bird real? How come I can see some of the flowers behind it?

I could provide an answer to all of the questions above by adding more elements, or “shading” the bird for volume.

A spring wind (after Hiroshige), ink, color and gold-leaf flakes on Japanese paper, 2023

But other than some gold leaf flakes, I decide against any of the above. It’s up to the viewer to decide what they want to see. I am particularly against adding anything more to the bird. Its super flat, see-through yet dominant position is exactly what I’m looking for. The notion that a bird that was painted over 150 years ago in a woodblock print sketch sheet could have taken flight and perched in a new place this spring. Brought over by the wind that scatters the blossoms once more.

I promised a finished painting, but there is one thing left to do still in the week ahead. To sign and seal the work in the lower left corner of the full composition.

This will not be an easy work to photograph without its final frame. Ah, yes, the frame. That could be the beginning of a whole new discussion. What do you think? How would like to see this unusual asymmetric triptych framed?

What next?

Part 03 of “A month in Japan” is still not here, and it’s already April. Perhaps we are overthinking this much, perhaps it’s the next painting in the “Eight Views of Kanazawa in Winter” that is itching to be started. It seems that words or ink strokes, I have only one mindspace to be. See you again next week.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: