Brushing Off Retirement

By Judee Fong

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Photo by: Jackie Swan; Oriental Brush and watercolour artist Richard Wong

With no art influence or interest in brush work other than painting his house, it is noteworthy that Richard Wong, retired since 2009, is today a recognized artist of his own style of Oriental Brush and Watercolours.

Richard chuckles as he explains his journey into the art world: “My first year of retirement was fun but, one day, I thought, ‘Now what?’ Jackie, my wife, asked me what I wanted for Christmas because, by then, I was looking for something to do.” An impulsive thought popped into Richard’s mind and he replied, “Painting sounds good. Maybe a sketchpad or something painting related that’s not painting the house!”

That Christmas, Richard received a beginner’s watercolour set and sketchbook, which he carefully set aside. Months later, he saw a notice for a beginner’s watercolour class and decided to attend.

“For a landscape, I had sketched a small hut and had painted the hut red,” he recalls of his first efforts. “I didn’t know I had to wait until it’s dry before doing anything else. I picked up another colour for the background and the brush accidently touched the edge of the red hut. The hut disappeared!”

Feeling foolish and frustrated, Richard almost quit but decided to persevere. He found he enjoyed the course and signed up for another term.

The local newspaper ran an announcement on a “Chinese Brush Technique” workshop offered by Kileasa Wong, so Richard decided to give that a try too. Despite the vast differences in the techniques of Western watercolours and Oriental Brush painting, Richard found both to be fun and allowed his imagination to soar.

“My backyard has feeders and lots of songbirds all year round,” he says of his inspiration. “It also backs on to a nature park, so we get the wildlife, such as raccoons and squirrels. Also walking, biking, hiking or gardening gives me more to observe.”

Seeing inspiration everywhere, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you can immediately paint it. Richard explains, “I paint when I feel there is something that needs to be put on paper; something that compels me to paint. I can’t paint-on-demand. I’ve tried just painting something, but it never feels right if it’s forced.”

Richard continued taking lessons and workshops in both Western watercolours and Chinese Brush painting. In Spring 2012, he saw an announcement for a workshop, “Watercolours on Masa Paper,” which piqued his curiosity. Googling “masa art,” he discovered only a handful of people, at that time, teaching this technique, and Comox’s Judi Pedder is one of them. With insufficient attendees, the workshop was cancelled.

Undeterred, Richard contacted Judi to ask if she would be willing to do a workshop if he could get enough Chinese Brush students to sign up. Judi agreed.
“I like to experiment, so I tried Western watercolours on treated masa paper. I liked it. Masa paper is soaked in water, then the water is squeezed out. It’s the squeezing process that breaks the paper fibres in random areas. The paper is smoothed out on a table, flipped over and a colour wash painted on it. Wherever the fibres have broken, the colour penetrates more and bleeds through. When the paper dries, it’s turned back over leaving a mottled background giving the finished watercolour picture a batik-like effect.”

This past Christmas, Richard tried dry masa paper in lieu of rice paper for his Oriental Brush paintings. “I had time to experiment and played around with the Chinese brushes, painting a series of miniatures, which was a lot of fun to do.”
In fall 2012, the Greater Victoria Community Art Council, where Richard is a board member, sponsored a Japanese Sumi Master with two of his handpicked students, to do workshops and appearances.

Sumi-e art is a form of Japanese brush painting entrenched in the Zen Buddhism discipline. Originally, it used only the colour black with nuances of black sumi ink on rice paper or silk. Today, other colours can be incorporated in the sumi ink paintings.

Just before the Sumi Master left, he asked for two names of Canadian artists to go to Japan for a possible exchange visit.

“I didn’t know my name had been submitted as one of the two artists,” says Richard. “It is such an honour just to be considered! We are still waiting for confirmation on this tentative exchange visit.”

Confessing that retirement did take a bit of adjustment after working for so long, Richard says, “I felt I had lost my identity. It’s almost funny because it was like going through puberty with a teenage identity crisis!”

“Now, my new identity is ‘artist.’ I love what I’ve accomplished so far with my art, exhibitions, workshops and the people I meet. I enjoy teaching because I like to share what I’ve learned.”
Adventurous, confident and boldly trying new avenues, Richard says, “with artwork, I find that not just one door opens but many doors open at the same time. My advice is to keep learning, be open-minded and always enjoy what you do.”

Richard’s art can be seen at the Gallery in Oak Bay Village and Coast Collective Art Centre or on his website To contact Richard, email



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For an opportunity to meet the artist and watch him at work, Richard is the Artist-in-Residence at Victoria's Hotel Grand Pacific throughout the month of May.

Posted by judee fong | May 2, 2013 Report Violation

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