Barking up the right tree

Updated: 2013-03-05 08:09

By Zheng Jinran (China Daily)

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 Barking up the right tree

The image of two raccoon heads painted on a tree trunk by Wang Yue in Shijiazhuang attracts a pedestrian's attention. Ren Quanjun / For China Daily

An innovative artist harnesses nature as a canvas for her art, and her works on tree trunks have added a color to drab winter streetscapes, as Zheng Jinran reports in Shijiazhuang.

While winter's trees await spring to show off their new attire of blossoms and leaves, Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, has stolen a march on warmer weather by featuring pictures on its trees.

Jiuzhong Street has become the focus of an artistic initiative that sees the exposed trunks of trees becoming canvases for whimsical images.

In one "tree trunk picture" a white cat's head peeps out; in another, a giant panda frolics in a bamboo grove; while in yet another, sunset falls over a port and the water glints in the dying light.

About 11 tree trunk pictures have been crafted since February on old pagoda trees that typically line the avenues of the city.

Luo Hongxian, 27, took his 2-year-old son to the street to view them.

"It's a brilliant idea and lights up the dull street during the long winter months, " he says, after taking photos of his son pointing at one of the tree trunk pictures that has an animal looking out.

The artist, Wang Yue, has been drawing since senior high school and says she has received a lot of compliments on her new series of works.

"I'm thrilled the public likes them so much," the 23-year-old says.

"I like to find beauty in everyday things, such as manhole covers, tree trunks and broken bridges," says the student who is majoring in visual communication at Dalian Polytechnic University, Liaoning province.

She says her tree trunk pictures were intended to brighten up the streets in winter.

"The exposed tree trunk is quite smooth and clean and can be preserved for a long time," she says, adding that she used to draw pictures around manhole covers, such as of a middle-aged man smoking a cigar - but they quickly faded away as people walked over them.

Preparation for her tree trunk pictures involves quite a lot of work. First, her friend Li Yue takes about a week to scout for appropriate trees, as the exposed trunk must be large enough for a picture, otherwise there will be no visual impact.

Li takes photos of the tree candidates and sends them to Wang, who makes the decision to go ahead with a design, based on the size and shape of the exposed trunk.

She designs the images on her computer and uses software to add the shape of the exposed trunk, before sending the completed image to her phone, from which she eventually draws the design on the tree itself.

It takes her, on average, about two hours to complete a drawing.

"We usually chat when she does her drawings," says Li, who takes pictures of the artist while she works. "It makes the time pass quicker."

The local environmental protection bureau confirms the paints do not harm the trees.

Her tree trunk pictures have garnered praise not only at home, but all over the country, after they were posted online.

"The reaction was beyond my expectations," Wang says, insisting she will continue to work at her own pace and ensure the quality of each picture.

In the future she plans to inject a narrative element to the pictures, such as a yellow warbler on one exposed area of the trunk, and below it a squirrel looking up at the bird, so it looks as if they are talking to each other.

"I want people to interpret their own stories from my paintings," she says. "Since people love the pictures so much I will continue to do them after graduation," she says. "It's my gift to my home city."

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 Barking up the right tree

Clockwise from top left: Wang Yue works on a tree trunk picture; A dog is fascinated by one of her images; The paint is harmless to trees; Jiuzhong Street in Shijiazhuang hosts the colorful display of art.

(China Daily 03/05/2013 page18)