Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Laughing Waters Studio offers Chinese brush painting for all abilities

Posted on 26 March 2018 by calvin

Artist Bob Schmitt said, “It’s with great pleasure that I present the spirit of the Minnesota landscapes I know and love, using ink and brush in the Chinese painting tradition. I’m also honored to add my poetry to these paintings, continuing the Chinese tradition of blending imagery with words.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Artist Bob Schmitt’s relationship with Chinese brush painting started when he was just a kid. To hear him tell it, ”As a 12-year-old, I’d hurry home from school to watch a public television program about Sumi-e (Asian black ink painting). I’d sit there with my ink, brush, and paper practicing the strokes. Now it’s 50 years later, and I’m still exploring this style of painting.”

Schmitt’s training intensified when he took a workshop series with two Chinese painting masters from Toronto in 1995. “Those workshops really turned my artistic world upside down,” he said, “because I received a glimpse into the depth and beauty of Chinese painting. In 1998, I met Hong Zhang, a Chinese painting master who lives here in Minneapolis. I’ve pursued rigorous professional training in Chinese landscape painting and calligraphy with him for 20 years now. The rigor of practice in this tradition has deepened my understanding of these three simple materials: ink, brush, and paper.”

In the handsome yellow bungalow he shares with partner Greg Leier at 3718 Minnehaha Ave. E., Schmitt offers four Chinese painting and calligraphy classes each week. In 2016, their house was essentially redesigned and rebuilt. It now sports a spacious classroom with room for ten students in the back, along with a full gallery and workspaces in the basement. The square footage went from 750 to almost 2,400—and Schmitt’s gracious design garnered a 2017 BLEND Award for the homeowners. This award celebrates builders and designers that best integrate old and new construction, and weave it into the fabric of an existing neighborhood.

Schmitt seems happily settled into his surroundings and his teaching responsibilities. “For many years, I made my living as a graphic designer,” he said. “I also spent several years teaching early childhood education classes, which means that I’m well acquainted with the learning styles of young children. That experience impacted the way I still teach. I believe it’s important to use each student’s name frequently, and I try to catch everyone doing something right every time we meet.”

Schmitt continued, “I’d guess that the average student at Laughing Waters has been in class for five years or more. I still have one student who was in the first class I taught 14 years ago. People sign up, and they just don’t stop. They receive a lot of individual attention, and also benefit greatly from the support and encouragement of their peers.”

Photo right: From a quote on the Laughing Waters Studio wall, “Chinese brush painting is the experience of life transformed into line.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Schmitt teaches that mistakes are nothing to be afraid of. “Chinese painting is an unforgiving art form—it’s black ink, after all. Once you’ve made a mark on your paper, you can’t take that mark back. You can learn to live with your mistake though, and often what you thought was ‘the tragic error’ turns out to be the best part. It seems like people with a tendency toward perfection are drawn to this style of painting and that, over time, their perfectionism starts to soften. This way of working can be liberating, and quite healing.”

In any of Schmitt’s classes, students are working side by side with many different levels of experience—including none. Schmitt extends an especially warm welcome to those students who think they’re not good at art. Many adults have had a negative childhood experience (often with an art teacher), and that feeling of insecurity has never gone away. He explained, “I have a large percentage of students who don’t think of themselves as being artistic. My job as a teacher is to identify their blocks to creativity, and to help them overcome those blocks.”

A full schedule of classes and contact information can be found at Schmitt will be hosting his annual student art show and Mother’s Day Sale at Laughing Waters Studio at 3718 Minnehaha Pkwy. E., on May 12-13 from 10am until 5pm. He welcomes old friends and new to come and see what artists can create with the simple materials of ink, brush, and paper.

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