• Lijing Cobb


For the last week or so my mind has been drawn to a particular subject every day. Like a squirrel getting ready for winter, I had amassed pieces of materials necessary to carry out this new adventure, and patiently (or impatiently) waiting to inaugurate the start of this journey.

I’m going to learn how to paint with watercolor.

I’ve always been drawn to watercolor paintings. Growing up in China I saw plenty of watercolors done by masters. In a few strokes a lotus flower comes into bloom. In another few a fluffy chickling is waddling. In yet another few a person materializes. My hometown is nicknamed “Watertown south of the Long River,” and the idyllic scene of white houses topped with black eves along small riverbanks, where a black awning boat is drifting on the water towards a ancient stone bridge, with just a touch of color in the distant, the fresh pink of pear blossoms, indicating the unmistakable arrival of spring… has been captured by countless artists since ancient times. I never tire of looking at these watercolors. How amazing that one could have the ability to convey a lifetime of yearning in a matter of minutes, with just two colors?

My father was, at one point in his life, a dedicated calligrapher. For a few years he studied how to master a certain style of calligraphy on his own, and on a Sunday afternoon or night he would spread rice paper on the only table we have in our house, get his inkstone and calligraphy brush ready, and spend hours on improving his craft. The neighbor uncle took up the same self training as my father, and they would often compare their finished product. In the end my father’s skill improved to the point where he was good enough to write the spring couplets for us and any relatives who asked for them. On 2 long red scrolls he would copy a traditional New Year’s couplet, and the scrolls would be pasted onto our front door on the first day of New Year’s, there to greet us each day when we returned home, before eventually falling off of the door when the glue lost its stickiness. I remember liking him a lot more when he studied calligraphy. When rice paper was spread on the table and my father was focused on getting each stroke just right, the air in the room was imbued with a sacredness nobody could sully. We probably didn’t even breathe during those quiet and peaceful hours lest we brought him out of his trance in the world of art.

It seems that people don’t just do things though. I mean, I’ve loved watercolor paintings for as long as I can remember, and would really love to be able to paint with watercolor and express myself as succinctly as two colors, a few lines, a few dots, and a couple of smears. But I never really thought about just doing it. Just do it, what’s the big deal? My kids would often think of one thing one minute and do it the next, no matter how outrageous the idea is. But I guess I’ve been subdued way too early. Up till now, I simply didn’t think of it as a possibility.

But what’s stopping me now? One day the question just popped into my head, and I answered it by going to Amazon and searching for “watercolor painting book”. There I compared and contrasted several options and decided to purchase one that seemed pretty straightforward. After receiving the book I read the introduction and got instructed on the appropriate and necessary materials to have at hand. I went onto Michael’s and got my paint and paper, then back to Amazon for brushes and a palette. Everything arrived on Saturday. I decided to wait for a quiet moment by myself to start my journey, so Monday afternoon, when the kids are still at school, seemed to be the perfect time.

And here is my first experiment from the first lesson of the book. Already I’m hooked. When I was applying the strokes I kept thinking to myself, maybe this is me painting a creature that already exists somewhere, maybe in a different reality. There is a lot of truth in putting paint down to paper and seeing images start to formulate. Different people always shape things differently. This newborn painting, however crude and immature, is mine alone. It is part of me, the expressions of a beginning. A bit of hope, a touch of excitement, a hint of happiness.

Doing something like this is… ah, how do I put it? I have absolutely no obligation to do this. I do it because I’m curious and interested. I do it because I want to explore new relationships of my inner world to the manifest reality. I do it because I wish to understand through my own efforts why this medium brings me so much enjoyment, longing, and peace.

Yesterday, as I waited to embark on this new journey, I also deliberately took a break in writing my blog. My writing has at times become more of an obligation than an urge, and I didn’t want it to evolve more towards that direction. I want my hobbies to be expressive, healing, sincere, and free of the sense of a shackle.

So here is to self expression, freedom, art, and healing. Perhaps one day this mind who searches for words will have no more use of words. Perhaps one day all the different layers of what’s in front of my eyes can be distilled onto the paper in just a few simple strokes, there to lay the issue of authenticity to rest.

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