Sugar Painting: Sweet, Sweet Art

Authors: Go Chengdu


Twelve foreigners came to Dayi County in western Chengdu on May 23 and had the experience of sugar painting, learning how to "paint" with sugar and the spoon in their hand, during a program sponsored by local website
Sugar painting stands rarely make an appearance on the streets of Chengdu, but can be easily found at several parks in the city, usually surrounded by some small kids watching eagerly the movements of the painter as the melted sugar trickles down from the long spoon upon the marble slab on the table, and gradually forms various patterns ― flowers, butterflies, dragonflies, baskets, pandas, bikes, birds, dragons and so on.
And this makes a vivid picture of Chengdu life, and the sweet memory of sugar painting lingers in the mind of local people long after they have grown up. The art of sugar painting has a distinct local flavor and has been included in the list of China's national intangible cultural heritage.
So here came a group of foreigners who tried to get a touch of the sweet art ― on May 23 they arrived in Dayi County in western Chengdu and had the experience of sugar painting, learning how to "paint" with sugar and the spoon in their hand, during a program sponsored by local website GoChengdu.
"I saw sugar paintings before, but how can I imagine that I am going to make it myself? I'd like to try a cute panda," said Caroline, who is from Germany and is learning the Chinese language in Chengdu.
All the twelve foreigner "painting learners" sat before a small table with all the instruments necessary for the creative work, under instructions of Mr. Zhang Hong, a young sugar painting artist who gave explanations and demonstrations to the attentive learners.
"Sugar painting is different from other art forms. First, since the liquid sugar will soon solidify when it cools down, the painter must act very quickly; second, the pattern must be completed without any stops, when the painter concentrates to follow the lines of the pattern," Zhang said.
The foreigners then threw themselves into their creations and, after trial and error, they finally managed to make various sugar painting works of their own ― pandas, birds, baskets, and the like.
Paulo, from Sweden, said his horoscope in the Chinese zodiac is dragon and wanted to "draw" a sugar dragon, but Zhang advised him to "write" the Chinese character 龍 (dragon in traditional writing) instead, since the pattern of the legendary creature was too complex and not easy to make for a new learner.
"Well, I am glad to have made my first sugar painting, even though it is not the drawing of dragon," Paulo said, "This is really interesting."
About sugar painting:
Sugar painting (Tang-hua) is a traditional Chinese folk art using hot, liquid brown sugar, malt sugar or white sugar to make figures. Popular in Sichuan province, especially in Chengdu, it has a history of 400 years and the art of sugar painting has been liseted as an item of the national intangible cultural heritage.

Sweet Art Shining on Smooth Slab

Every sugar painter is a sweet art creator: the spoon his brush pen, the sugar his ink and the marble slab his paper.

Oct 21, 2014

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