Huihan Liu is a master oil painter and generous instructor. His atmospheric narrative figure work has brought him accolades around the world. Born in Guangzhou, China, he trained from 1972 to 1975 at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art. In 1989, Huihan graduated with a Bachelor’s degree and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Academy of Art College of San Francisco. According to him, his strongest influences during his studies in China were the 19th-century Western painters.
Huihan, I am glad you are coming back to Carmel for another outdoor figure painting workshop. You are a master at capturing costumed models in outdoor environments. You have a great way of adding atmosphere in your work. Let’s talk about your process as we consider the upcoming outdoor figure workshop you will be teaching in May 2021. We are keeping this class small so we can adhere to social distancing needs, while you will be able to work more with each student by having fewer people in the workshop.
CVA: What is the most efficient way to learn to draw and paint the figure?
HL: Have the basic knowledge about the figure’s structure and form, it helps to understand and simplify the shapes and form. This will clarify the confusion when the light is shifting. It is always a good practice to draw and paint in short and long poses.
Huihan starts a new painting demo
CVA: How do you decide what subject matter you will paint?
HL: I think that subject matter is a personal choice. I like a more natural look than a set-up look—even though I take a lots of time planning from my vision. However, I like it when the painting comes out naturally.
CVA: Your commercial work was as an illustrator and making storyboards for the animation industry. How do you find that being helpful in your current fine art work?
HL: My training background was as an academic in fine art in the 70s. My interest in visual elements and design purposes are not much difference between illustration or storyboard or fine art. The only difference is that it is NOT your idea, you work with art director to meet the deadlines. It was helpful as a discipline and for learning.
CVA: I love the way you compose your paintings. Tell me what some of the best things to know when putting a figure in a landscape environment.
HL: When I consider the composition in a painting with a figure in an environment, my attention is in the environment and surrounding, I like the figure to be part of nature in their connection. Perhaps I enjoy culture, when I visit the place. I like to explore the local culture and the history. It is the same as in my many international painting trips.
Morning incense at Johang monastery
CVA: Where do you look for inspiration in your art?
All forms of art are related—such as painting, music, movie, dance, drama, reading. As I am getting older, I not only sit in front of a painting easel for hours, I look for many sources to simulate my vision as an inspiration on painting.