Painting with soot and glacial water 水墨
Thousands of years after the glaciers melt, we ride up the waters of Lake Chelan. The Stehekin River flows in at the top of the lake at Stehekin, still fed by mountain glaciers.
We’re learning to fly fish. Beneath the water of the river are thousands of Kokanee Salmon, getting ready to spawn and die. They’re a brilliant orange. I’ve never seen so many fish in my life.
I hook seven trout in a few hours and release them. There’s a beautiful rhythm, gliding down the river. Casting into the waters, mimicking insects floating downstream.
Back on the lake, the steep sided valley reminds me of traditional Chinese landscapes. I take a lump of coal from our campfire and walk to the rocky edge of the lake. I grind the charcoal with a rock. I mash the end of a reed with the same stone. I mix the charcoal with water and begin to paint.
Grinding the soot 100,000 times.
Traditional Chinese landscapes are painted with inksticks. It’s made with the soot from charred pine tree roots, Pinus Massoniana 马尾松 in the Yellow Mountain area. It has a very rich natural matt dark colour.
The ingredients should be ground 100,000 times so the particles of ink are very fine. My tools were far more rudimentary. I wanted to see what I could create anyway. It’s a big departure from the collage I normally make. It was also a test. To see if I could color papers with natural pigments from the earth.
Sketchy and scratchy, marking paper with soot and water.
When I normally create works, it’s always very controlled. I use found papers and color them with store-bought acrylic paints. I tear the paper up into color palettes, then carefully paste the paper down to form shapes.
The drawing at Lake Chelan is much looser, scratching down an image of what I see. I like that I can’t control the reed. I like that it’s frayed edge forms a different shape on the paper, sometimes creating an unexpected ghost image of the each mark I make.
In an hour I create about nine little postcards, which I seal with fixative and send to friends around the world.
What happens next in art?
Sometimes what we do now is just a precursor to something else. This little experiment showed me I don’t need an art store to create. We can do stuff with whatever we have around us. It’s also spurred me to collect dirt, earth, bark and leaves and see what I pigments I can achieve to add pigment to my collage paper.
I even went all drippy. Dripping the charcoal and water on paper and trying to form mountain shapes with the drips. It's not about exact representation, it's about using the what's here to give a feeling of what's around me. Who knows where this will lead?