Brushwork Style Photography
Updated: Jun 2, 2018
Our latest photo package features a studio photoshoot with 2 edited photos in the brushwork style. It allows for a lot more flexibility and creativity than a typical outdoor shoot, as the composing of the final image only takes place in post-processing, and a variety of settings and moods can be evoked with the addition of props and background elements.
But what exactly is the brushwork style?
For a start, some may be confused by the term 工笔画 (literally, meticulous brush painting), especially when we're using it to describe a photographic style. It originally refers to a specific style of Chinese painting dating back to the Han dynasty, where artists depict their subjects in a highly detailed and realist manner using precise, fine strokes. This is in contrast to the more expressive and interpretive style of painting, termed 写意 ("sketching thoughts", or the freehand brushwork style).
(Left: 工笔画，Right: 写意画)
Paintings in this style was popular among nobles, who highly-prized the artistic skill required to achieve such level of detail in painting (bearing in mind the limitations of art materials at that time). In the Tang and Song dynasties, they were endorsed and collected by the royal families of China, and it become common for nobles to have themselves and their lives documented by these talented artists, who sometimes even lived with the nobles for a prolonged period until their work was complete. Unlike Western portraits, however, these paintings were not posed for; the artist had to quickly and meticulously observe the scene and commit it to memory, painting as if he had simply passed by and recorded what he saw. As such, the spirit of brushwork painting is therefore not unlike photography, and the paintings that have survived to this day have provided valuable visual insights about life in the past, due to their highly realistic and narrative qualities.
A prominent artist who specialised in this style was Zhou Fang (周昉). He lived in the Tang Dynasty and was famous for his poetic portrayals of noblewomen going about their daily lives. His work, 簪花仕女图卷, may even be considered the most iconic painting of the Tang dynasty:
His painting beautifully details the flowing silk fabrics, the recreational activities of the noblewomen, and the prevailing aesthetic of their time. However, while the noble ladies are richly attired, attended by servants, and appear to be enjoying themselves in a vast and tranquil garden, their expressions convey a sense of emptiness and boredom. This depiction of the emotional life of his subjects distinguished Zhou Fang from his contemporaries, and his works initiated a renewed interest in figure drawing within the arts circle, a genre once reserved for the depiction of deities and esteemed religious authorities.
As for photography, it isn't very clear who first came up with the idea of fusing photography with the ancient brushwork painting techniques. The style first appeared in the editorial spreads of Chinese fashion magazines, featuring high-profile celebrities. To create these images, the artists would first photograph the subject, then digitally paint onto the image to add supporting elements, making the photo as painterly as possible. Apparently, one of the pioneers of the style, Sun Jun, took up to 2 weeks to complete one image due to the sheer amount of detail involved. Here are some of his works:
(Above: Fan Bing Bing)
(Above: Sun Li)
(Above: Daniel Wu)
Sun Jun's works masterfully bring together East and West - an ancient art form with modern photography, and Eastern aesthetics with Western fashion styling. Perhaps the appeal of his works derive from this visual union of two cultures as well, a metaphor for modern China harmonizing Western ideologies with its rich cultural ancestry.
While we can only aspire to produce such masterpieces, you no longer have to be a celebrity or noble-person to have your portrait done in a similar, albeit simplified, style. Through digital editing techniques, a similar effect can be achieved to create an affordable and unique portrait that will bring out your best attributes.
A shoot with us is guaranteed to be a fun and novel experience, so why not share it with your loved ones? This package can also be customised into a friendship, couple or family photography session to commemorate a birthday or special occasion.
Contact us to find out more!