Monday, October 06, 2003


You didn't think I could do it, did you?

I kept promising and promising: "I'll get those pics of my artwork up, I will, I will."

And now they're UP, baby.

FTP clients? Fuck that. Just drag and drop.

It took a while to figure this out, but I eventually realized that, since I have a personal email account with StarPower, I have TEN MEGABYTES OF WEBSPACE BEGGING TO BE EXPLOITED!

So it was simply a matter of

1. ...going to a copying service that did color scans of huge documents,

2. ...getting everything scanned,

3. ...receiving an ID and password to access the scans (which were placed online for me to retrieve at my leisure),

4. ...going to a PC-bahng-- the very one I'm in now-- and downloading the files,

5. ...spending two hours piecing the images together with an illegal copy of Adobe Photoshop 6.0 (thanks guys), because even the big scanners weren't big enough to scan the docs whole,


You know what this means, now that I know how to put images on my blog?

It means I might just have to start that COMIC STRIP!

But first, to business.

You've been teased and teased. I apologize. I'm facing a steep learning curve. People who outlive Jesus don't think as fast as they did when they were 15. Plus, my fingers are fat so gravity keeps me from typing too fast.

I said I'd done a bunch of brushwork, and now you'll get to see it. I have six images here. The first two are NOT my work; they're Bodhidharma images I bought, and from which I've gained some inspiration. They also provide some encouragement because they contain mistakes. One of them cost me 50,000 won, around $42. The next four images are my own work. Shall we plunge on in?

This is "Hairy Bodhidharma." My favorite pic. I really admire the artist's work here. His brush strokes are done with conviction, as you can see. I'm still a bit more cautious. The artist is also into subtlety-- you can see the wispiness of the saint's beard and eyebrows, for example, and the gray-colored halo.

Enlightened Hairiness

It's a gorgeous Bodhidharma, I think. Very stylized, very energetic. Notice the bags under the eyes? I decided to include that trait in my own images. The artist has great control over his brush. Each stroke starts strong, and often the ink "runs out" just as the stroke is ending, either because he's been shrewd about how much ink to put on the brush, or because he knows precisely when to start lifting the brush off the paper at the end of the stroke.

A quick word about the Chinese characters: The big character above and to the right of the saint's head is "ki," energy, vital force, breath, etc. Underneath Bodhidharma's beard you see two characters stacked on top of each other: "Bul" (Buddha), which looks like a fancy, backwards dollar sign; and "shim" (mind). Buddha-mind. The "print" version of "shim" often looks more like a capital L surrounded by three teardrops. Many artists seem to prefer a "reclining" version of the character. Oh, and maybe that qualifies as a quasi-mistake: notice that "shim" is written very small, while "Bul" is much larger. I've tried to avoid that in my own art.

Any other mistakes? Well, for me, it's a mistake that the artist drew one feature, then covered it up. Bodhidharma's got a monster pendulous earlobe, and there's usually an earring hanging off it, making him look a bit like the world's most enlightened pirate. But all that HAIR, man! It's covering the lower ear and the earring. Is this a tragic mistake? No. I'm just pointing out that the artist isn't perfect, and besides, brushwork is as much about imperfections as about what goes right.

Blotching also falls into this category, lucky for us non-experts.

Which brings me to the next image, another one I didn't do. Here it is:

Popeye Bodhi

I said it before: this reminds me strongly of a cross between Popeye and my Uncle Pete. Uncle Pete's got a bald pate, and Popeye's got those amazing jowls.

Hmmm. Popeye ate spinach. Buddhist monastics are usually vegetarian... connection?

This artist used a bit of color, and the ink is here behaving like watercolor would. There are greys and browns, along with black. Notice the halo in this picture is stronger, more prominent. Notice also that the halo swoosh starts at shoulder level here, whereas the Hairy Bodhi's halo starts at eye level. You can also see that the people who scanned my work weren't too careful about how they aligned the paper. Grrr.

Bodhidharma is rarely thin. Thin Bodhidharmas do exist, but they're the exception, not the rule. This guy's got some serious neck action going, to accompany his jowls. His beard's pretty wimpy, too, and he doesn't seem to have much hair on the back of his skull. Since Bodhidharma's at least part-legendary (if not entirely legendary), artistic license is the name of the game, and people imagine him all sorts of ways, though they usually manage to sneak in the basic motifs found in almost every Bodhidharma pic.

(By the way, I was talking about the HALO before, when I asked in a previous blog what was missing from all those other pictures of the saint I'd posted!)

In the upper left corner of the picture, you see the character for Buddha. Take a second and compare it with the previous picture. Notice how each artist dealt with the character. The guy who drew Popeye seems to have a lighter touch, and he likes curves. The guy who drew Hairy Bodhi uses stronger, straighter strokes that seem to indicate a mindset that's less into "wandering"-- he's more direct, but he attacks his own painting with zeal to match the conviction.

I tend to think that the Popeye artist doesn't have as much control over his brush. See the blotches on the Chinese characters? There's a big one in the upper right corner of the picture, to the right of the character for "person" (the "person" character looks like a backwards Greek lambda). There's another blotch, harder to see, two characters up from the red "myeong" stamp.

So I've had these guys on my wall for a couple months now, and when I started doing my own work, I'd refer to them-- not necessarily to copy them. As you'll see in a moment, my brushwork doesn't look much like theirs, though you may notice traces of their influence.

Blotching isn't always a bad thing. Calligraphy's sometimes an unruly business, as much subject to the random burblings of physics as to the controlled intentions of the artist. Ink will do what it damn well pleases if you let it, and to an extent, this is appreciated in brush art. You'll see, for example, many artists who draw the vertical bars on the "Bul"/Buddha character in such a way that the left bar stops short, but the right bar hangs waaaaay down and ends in an almost-bulbous swelling, which you accomplish by holding the brush in place and letting the ink spread. You'll see this in my work.


Here's my first image, offered with some trepidation:

Jesus, he looks Klingon!

I've gone for the swollen "Bul," as you see. The saint's robe is described in two long, wavy strokes. The beard and mustache are all strong, slow strokes-- partly because I'm still learning, partly because I preferred that to doing something wispy. I'm not one for subtlety, myself.

I like this one because he looks thoroughly pissed off. And his eyes are pretty damn big. Maybe he could punch a hole through a cow with his mind, eh? That'd miff some Hindus.

But more than my brush art, I love those stamps! They are so damn cool.

Oh, yeah-- I went for the strong halo. And the baggy eyes. I tried a couple drafts where I added another "cheekbone" stroke on the right side of the face (from your point of view), but that made the image too busy-looking.

You'll notice I didn't try my luck with any Chinese sentences, like the previous artists. Several reasons: my mastery of the characters and grammar is still shaky, so I'll stick to what I know, for the moment; and since Bodhidharma pictures vary in the amount of "text" they contain-- from many columns of Chinese to no Chinese at all-- I thought this would be a happy medium. As I gain proficiency, though, expect to see more complexity on the upper left side of future images.

And more color. I'm hoping, when I advance to dragons (which are hellishly complicated to draw), to show you some multicolored work.

The above Klingon-looking Bodhidharma can be made into a scroll. Here's the same scenario, but for picture framing:

Where's my fuckin' BEER!?

The "Bul"/Buddha character is somewhat stylized in the upper right corner. But I took my cue from both the Hairy and the Popeye artists; you'll see they do something similar. There's probably a name for that style (I don't think this is "grass writing"-- that's even more abstract, isn't it?), but I don't know it.

This Bodhidharma looks even more pissed off. I thought his beard turned out great... except for one thick stroke, right under his earlobe, obscuring his earring. It's the same kind of mistake the Hairy artist made, so I'm not too ashamed to show you this. You'll also have noticed I'm sticking with the "reclining" version of the "shim"/mind character.

"Shim" actually translates in English as either "mind" or "heart." There are certain contexts in which one translation is better than another. For example, it'd be silly to call it the "Mind Sutra" instead of the Heart Sutra, because "heart" in this case indicates "teaching that goes straight to the heart of the matter." The heart is a metaphor for centrality, ultimate importance, and the Heart Sutra is often praised by masters as a highly concentrated dose of Buddhist teaching-- the dharma in raw form.

The following image is slightly tilted; I guess that's how it was scanned. You'll have to trust me when I tell you I did a better job of keeping my characters vertically aligned than the image suggests. This is "Buddha-mind" done in a scroll-friendly format:

Bul Shim or Bull Shit?

I'm not entirely happy with either the "Bul" or the "shim." The "shim" lacks conviction, and the final upstroke at the end of the "Bul" character isn't done strongly enough. It indicates a sloppy, inattentive mind, certainly not someone possessed of correct Buddha-mind.

And finally: "Bul shim" in a frame-friendly format:

It really says EAT ME, FOOL.

This one, if I sell it here in Seoul, I'll sell for cheap. The small Chinese characters aren't that well done. On the far right, two small characters say "seong do," or literally "attaining the Tao." That's one of many terms in East Asian Buddhism for enlightenment (I discussed this a bit previously re: Buddhism's radical sinicization). The "seong" character is also found in the Sino-Korean word for success, "seong gohng."

And that's it. There we are. Now you have some idea of what I've been working on the past couple weeks. I should put up some early drafts; they're pretty embarrassing.

Hope you enjoyed the little tour. I'll be setting up PayPal buttons for the interested over on the Chewiest Tumors blog. Maybe not tonight; I've already been in this PC-bahng a while. I'll also put up some improved "Bul shim" scenarios, and will draw a "monk vs. tiger" staring contest to stick on there as well. Once products start appearing on Chewiest Tumors, that's your cue to start thinking about girlfriends and boyfriends and other folks who might want some brushwork, and to start ordering!

Thanks for reading this far. I always appreciate it.

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