This winter, instructor Mayee Futterman will be teaching Chinese Brush Painting at our Westwood center. Mayee brings years of experience and artistic inspiration to the classroom. We chatted with her about the history of this art form, and how you can get started creating unique and beautiful works of your own.
Can you describe your history with Chinese Brush Painting and how you got started?
I have been an artist all my life. As a young girl, I loved to draw. I became an architect and discovered the power of design, materials, and structure. Then, the birth of our son rocked my world. It rearranged my life, career, and mindset. “Mayee, Interrupted.” Motherhood taught me three things: to go with the flow, to know the beauty of the female body, and to love unconditionally. But before I knew it, I was no longer the sun of my son’s universe. Again, time came for change. “Mom, you have vision. Now execute.”
The Chinese characters for měi 美 meaning “beauty” and yí 怡 meaning “ease” represent my name. To me, they convey the essence of the art I love: the joyful expression of sublime beauty, with the natural ease of a dancing brush. Graceful yet bold, deliberate yet free, Chinese Brush Painting bridges my duality—the bold austerity of the architect with the sensuous grace of motherhood.
My mother’s first household purchase as a newlywed was not a bed, pots and pans, or any practical necessities. With her small savings, she bought an exquisite Chinese blue and white porcelain jar with images of Phoenix, Dragon, and Peony. My childhood was deeply infused with Chinese and Philippine influences that inspired my aesthetic sensibilities. I too began my love affair with Chinese Brush Painting the year I was married.
Chinese Brush Painting is the foundation of all oriental brush arts and has strongly influenced Western painting. An extension of Chinese calligraphy or brush writing, no other art form emphasizes the mastery of brushwork. My art and teaching are strongly founded on classical Chinese Brush Painting skills, techniques, philosophy, and subject matter. I teach a range of approaches from traditional to contemporary. I draw influences from my multi-cultural experience and bring a rigor and aesthetic sensibility from my architecture and urban design background. My approach is suitable for beginning through advanced students.
Like UCLA Extension students, my first exploration into Chinese Brush Painting was through continuing education. For over two decades, I studied and apprenticed under professor and master artist, Dr. Ning Yeh. I serve as teaching assistant and co-authored five of his instructional art books including “108 Flowers: Brush Painting Lessons Volumes 1-4” and “Landscape Lessons.” I have a Master of Architecture II from UCLA and a Bachelor of Science in Architecture, Cum Laude from the University of the Philippines. My work is in various corporate and private collections throughout the U.S. and abroad. I have traveled to China numerous times to study and paint.
I am excited to teach at UCLA Extension because my own life changes and transformative experiences are aligned with their vision to “engage education to transform lives” and “to create extraordinary learning experiences for adults of all ages.” In brush painting (as in life), the first stroke is a “happening.” The rest are a series of adjustments building upon previous ones. Whether one is undergoing a career change, enhancing skills, or engaged in lifelong learning, Chinese Brush Painting is an enlightening practice in embracing change.
Tell us about an especially rewarding project you’ve worked on and why you enjoyed it so much.
My first art commission was to produce a large wall mural for the lobby of a new medical facility. Unfortunately, oversized handmade rice paper is no longer produced. My teacher offered, “This paper was my father’s. I’ve been saving it—for when I get better.” The sheets were a treasure. The master himself considered them too precious to use. “There are only 20 sheets. You take 10.” I was stunned. How could I possibly paint on these?
The paper had aged to a fine perfection, every stroke a sensual delight. When I tell this story, people inevitably ask, “How many sheets did it take to get it right?” I respond, “Was there any room for error?”
The giant mural and over 30 of my works are permanently displayed at the Los Angeles Center for Women’s Health (Women’s Center), a comprehensive, state-of-the-art facility in downtown Los Angeles dedicated to providing high quality, compassionate care for the health and well being of women through all life stages.
Shortly after the center opened, I got calls for additional paintings. “Some patients come in with severe emotional and physical distress. Many are facing terminal conditions. Seeing your art brings them ease and comfort.” I too have worn a patient’s gown and sat in the waiting room with other patients—and with my art. I have often contemplated the value and purpose of art in human lives.
The Women’s Center project was my awakening to the positive and life-affirming influence of my art. It gave me the confidence and conviction to share the beauty, joy, inspiration, and knowledge of Chinese Brush Painting with others. That single sheet of rice paper was a defining moment in my life. I have 9 sheets left—for when I get better.
Why is it important to you to teach this art form?
What makes Chinese Brush Painting unique? “The Four Treasures”—brush, ink stick, ink stone, and rice paper—have defined this art form for thousands of years. The Chinese brush is graceful, supple, and bounces to a lively point. When in tune with the artist’s spirit, it dances to the rhythm of the universe. Rice paper is sensitive, honest, and responsive. It absorbs every move, thought, and emotion. Once a stroke is delivered, it cannot be changed or covered up. The ink stone is the playground where ink meets water. The play of ink and water is the yin and yang of brush painting—the harmonious integration of contrasting elements resulting in a sense of equilibrium and tranquility. Together, the lively interaction of brush, ink, water, and rice paper is a transformative and enlightening experience.
Xiěyì寫意, the spontaneous style of Chinese Brush Painting, means “to depict an idea.” Executed in a lively, simple, and speedy manner, one expresses the spirit and essence of a subject rather than its realistic detail. The artist is at one with the subject, and the painting is a medium for self-expression and self-discovery.
As a student of Chinese Brush Painting, I am on a never-ending journey of learning. Sharing the knowledge with others is the most inspiring and energizing way to learn. Why is it important to me to teach this art form?
- It is a way of life. The theory of Chinese Brush Painting is also the philosophy of life. It gives meaning and connection to the world beyond one’s self. It is life-affirming and life-changing for both the artist and the viewer.
- We live a multi-cultural life with valuable and meaningful influences. I have a deep appreciation, understanding, and passion for this medium. Teaching others preserves the tradition and advances the art.
- It deepens the artist’s skill set and broadens their perspective. Chinese Brush Painting is an important genre in the history and development of art. Mastery of the brush empowers artists of any medium.
- It is fun. The sensation of stroking the Chinese brush to rice paper is like no other. It awakens all the senses. The whole person—mind, heart, body, and spirit—engages in this process. It is one’s “happy place.”
- The creative process is regenerative and rejuvenating. In Chinese Brush Painting, every sheet of rice paper is a fresh beginning. Every brush stroke is loaded with joyful anticipation. One is in a state of eternal spring.
What can students expect from your class?
In this class, students will unlock the treasures, experience the beauty, discover the essence, and share the joy of Chinese Brush Painting.
They will learn the basics of Chinese Brush Painting through hands-on instruction, complete compositions, handouts, and discussion including:
Gain an overview of the history, philosophy, and aesthetic concepts.
Understand the proper selection, care, preparation, and use of traditional materials.
Perform the basic skills and techniques for brush strokes including line work, texture, shading, and washes on floral, creatures, and landscape subjects.
Engage in a dialog about the principles of design and composition and methods of critique.
After taking this class, students can enjoy the following outcomes:
Demonstrate general knowledge, preparation, and proper use of brushes, paper, ink, and colors.
Demonstrate beginning skills to deliver brush strokes with fluidity and dexterity.
Demonstrate basic skills to apply Chinese Brush Painting techniques to produce finished paintings.
Apply key elements of design and composition to produce original images.
In the budding stage, the sunflower faces the sun and follows it’s movement across the sky. As it matures, it settles into a fixed position. My teacher says, “The desire to learn keeps one’s mind in the budding stage.” Indeed, Chinese Brush Painting has something to offer for everyone. No prior experience needed. Paint with me this summer and take the lifelong journey into Chinese Brush Painting.