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Sleeping Bear Inspires New Triptych Painting, Golden Sand Dunes

Ice, wind, and water forged the breathtaking coastline known as Sleeping Bear Dunes. It's a raw beauty, as old as the continental ice shelves. The towering bluffsrise up around 400 feet above Lake Michigan. Its awe inspires creativity.

Immersed in the serenity of “The Most Beautiful Placein America,” I felt the connection to nature. The broad expanse of dunes and bluffs touched from behind by the low-lying sun left a lasting memory. Along with the melting ice from the changing seasons of winter to spring, it made a powerful scene.

When I gave in to the desire to paint it, I knew one panel would not be enough to convey its majesty. I needed three.

I don’t usually plan my paintings. When I get an idea, I give in to the urge and spill ink and paint. This work was different. Because it covers three panels, I made a rough sketch on paper first.

Golden Sand Dunes is my first triptych

Gesso came first. Then I splashed a mix of Chinese ink and acrylic paint onto the first panel. I work with Chinese calligraphy paintbrushes. They came in different sizes and tapper off at the end into a fine point. The larger ones cover a great area while the small brushes are perfect for detail.

I start painting in the middle of the canvas, working on a long range of mountains. After a while, they resemble Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. My art gives the dunes a new life. My goal is to paint a new scene from my experience. My painting reveals the spirit of nature along with my own in a new creation.

The layer of yellow paint is the first of many. My technique pours ink from the bowl onto the canvas. It also brushes the ink across the panel in with graceful movements. I am told, it looks as if I’m doing tai chi.

The Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes take many layers to complete

Before the first layer is dry, I add a second layer of brown. Sometimes, a day or two passes between each layer. If I paint too soon, the colors on top of each other merge too much.

The third layer, white splashes onto the brown. It mixes a little as I paint beneath the mountains. The area above the mountains remains paint free.

As the layers of paint dry on the first panel, I use a smaller brush to work on the more delicate details. My technique blends the layers, creating new shades. Subtle brush movements through the layers shape my signature technique of intricate lines.

There are two more panels to paint the mountains on. Afterwards, I move onto the melting lake beneath the sand dunes of Michigan. I place the panels side by side, as I work. It allows me to create continuity of movement and energy between each panel.

Many layers of paint and brush techniques form the lake beneath the dunes. I start with a wet brush with the smallest amount of blue, then long strokes of darker blue with a medium sized brush. Finally, another layer of white on top of the blue completes the imagery of ice splitting and melting.

White space fills the void above the sand dunes of Michigan

It acts as a doorway to the imagination

When the painting is complete, a resemblance to Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes is evident. It’s not a replica, but a new creation. A scene inspired by the beauty of nature and balanced with the memory of how the sand dunes of Michigan made me feel.

Shulin Sun

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