Friday, August 03, 2012

Gifts of Winter

Gifts of Winter
Gouache and acrylic on paper mounted on birch panels
24" h x 12" W

The 7th from the series Red Bean Paste and Apple Pie.

The chestnut and the batnut (water caltrop). Neither are nuts, but are both starchy fruit. To me, they're both associated with winter, cold weather, rain, fire, and general deliciousness.

Batnut, which is often confused with water chestnut (talk about a double misnomer) is the fruit of the water caltrop, a water plant. It has a blackish hard shell with very pointy ends. You must skillfully bite each in half in the middle, and if you do it right, the white flesh would pop out from each half. If you don't crack it just right, much of the meat can be stuck in the pointy ends and you have to dig it out. This was a favorite winter snack food in Taiwan -- we often sat around eating batnuts while watching tv on cold, wintery nights. I missed it terribly for a long time, and the first time I returned to Taiwan in the winter time, my mother bought me some. They were no longer being freshly cooked and sold by street vendors, and the pre-cooked nuts were disappointing. I haven't really wanted any since, and I do find that a bit sad. I think next time I go back in the winter, I should try them again.

The chestnut is the winter holiday thing — stuffed in turkeys and I always associate it with Christmas because of that song. As I was researching this piece, I found out that a neighbor down the street has a pair (you need two to have fruit), and she said that I could have as many as I want, as they haven't figured out how to get past the prickly shells! So I shall experiment with that this winter.

Here's how the piece progressed. In contrast to the previous 6 pieces, I did not have this piece fully sketched out before I started. I knew some elements — that it would be vertical, that it would have water & the batnut in the bottom panel and the chestnut in the top, that there would have a snowflake-like structure surrounded by fire in the middle. But that was it.

The snowflake, waves and the water caltrop started to go in first, followed by the stars of a cold, snowy, winter night:

The fire, the mountains, the duckweed:

At this point, I was very unhappy with the piece. I thought the bottom half was very uninteresting. After playing around with different ideas, I decided to add a favorite winter bloom, the camelia. So here I've scrubbed out parts of the bottom panel and sketched in the camelia flowers:

Camelias are now fully operational, and the mountains got some snow:

The chestnuts are flying because it's a cold, blustery, winter day:

And of course, it would not be a Pacific Northwest winter without the rain. In Chinese, the constant light rain that we have in the PNW is called "furry rain," and I do love to render those fine, fine, furry lines. So I made it rain that furry rain, and the finished piece is the top image. And more camelias.


gl. said...

this series just keeps getting better! I love it. looking forward to seeing the whole series all at once!

Catherine Alice said...

Hey Shu- Ju - this is another stunning piece in the series. So sad to miss your Seattle opening - we will be at my Mom's! But we will get up to see the show for sure. Best, Catherine & Bill

fingerstothebone said...

Thanks, gl & Catherine,

Sorry, Catherine, that we'll miss you. It's a 2 person show with Diane, so I do hope that you'll make it sometime during the month!