Tower of Five Glories [watercolour]

The Tower of Five Glories (五华楼) is a building in Dali old town, Yunnan province China, a 1998 reconstruction. The first time a building of this name was built here was in AD 865 during the Nanzhao Kingdom, though then it was recorded as being five stories high with a capacity of ten thousand people, a venue to welcome royal guests. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times over the following centuries, the last time it was demolished was during the Cultural Revolution.

Selling baozi

Baozi are meat-filled dumplings eaten at breakfast, those big metal things are steamers. This is a watercolour painting.

I’m excited about this painting even though it looks a lot like previous pictures – it’s the first watercolour I haven’t altered in Photoshop, and I’ve tried out a few things that I’ve been thinking about for a while:

The whole picture was built up first with just two colours, a yellow ochre and prussian blue (dark, very staining). And then when I added colours (the red of the lanterns etc) I used the ochre and blue in the mix. So there’s a cohesion in the colours as well. I think you could probably make any image out of two base colours like this, even if they were bizarre – violet and lime green say. I always have problems with colours being too chaotic, so this two colour base is a great shortcut for me.

All the colours are muddy, except on the focus point (the girl).

There are lots of different whites – reddish-whites, bluish-whites etc made with washes, the only pure white (=paper) is on the focus area – the table, the girl’s face, the steamers.

I worked hard to make sure all the perspective is off :); there are no parallel lines, if you follow the lines of the wall or the table they don’t quite meet up, to grab your attention a bit more.

The apex made by the hands passing the baozi is supposed to echo the apex of the steamers.


My promo book covers for Penguin Books China: 1984, Metamorphosis, Pride & Prejudice, Moby Dick

The idea was to give Western classics a Chinese twist to make them appealing to a Chinese audience, to put them in a Chinese context. So here’s the first batch…


Orwell’s 1984:
Taking 1984 to be a hell on earth, with Big Brother as a Chinese devil….


Kafka’s Metamorphosis:
This is a longhorn beetle, which I found in my garden. I’ve never seen a bug like it in the UK, so for me it is a very “Chinese” beetle. The Characters on it’s wing case spell out the book title.


Melville’s Moby Dick:
I have another version of this which looks more “Chinese”, the calligraphy making up the whales tale. Unfortunately that image was too dark for the series, so we’ve got…


Austen’s Pride and Prejudice:
Chickens occasionally appear in Chinese ink painting, and I think the birds themselves have a certain arrogant, disgruntled look about them so….

Now printed on bags…