I had a pretty productive weekend with painting the lion head. The only parts I have left to do is the top and bottom eyelids after I have attached the fabric section for the eyelids. The only parts I am considering jazzing up are the areas with the red base and gold knife strokes. It almost looks too plain for me but I wonder with the addition of the metallic discs on them if it’s just enough.
Overall, I’m ok/happy with it for my level of painting skill and artistic abilities (read:lowly). Every time I see some of the professional heads made by the likes of Lo An Kee, Yu Ho, Bo Wah or Bak Wan etc it makes me feel like my head is inadequate but I need to put it all in perspective. They’re professionals and have made countless heads. This is my 5th attempt. I’m not aiming for the best, I’m also not aiming for a generic lion head. I’m aiming for something that makes me happy that I haven’t rushed it and have put it my all AND for everyone else, something that might just make you turn your head enough to say, that’s a cool looking head, it doesn’t look like the others, I wonder who made it. What do you guys think?
I’ve slowly been plugging away at this lion head. It’s been slow progress because rather than copy the colours of any other lion head, I have been trawling through images of cool lion heads I’ve seen and using them as inspiration for the colours. The design overall is as reflective as I can of the LFC lions that I have come across. The patterns are more in keeping with the more modern LFC heads with the fluffy sheep’s fur. The overall colour scheme I’ve got going is a red and gold colour. Hopefully it turns out great and so far, I’m liking what I see.
A bit of a lag between my last efforts and now. I’ve finished off papering the lion and putting on the designs. I’ve decided to go with a red/ gold/ yellow design for this one. Trying to get the colour scheme and design is tough though. I’ve been pouring through images of Luo An Kee lions and I’m loving the two tone base as well as the designs. So intricate but alas, I’m going to pass on anything too intricate. My brushwork isn’t quite there yet but maybe the next lion after this will be a Luo An Kee lion- complete with the frame made to the specs that Chris Low has in his book. I can’t wait to get cracking on completing this head.
And that’s that. I’ve finished off attaching the wiring and I’m done with the frame. It’ll be onto papering soon. I must say, the whole process of making the frame including the wiring did not feel as tedious as it did in the past. I finished it fairly quickly and easily too. Some new things I’ve experimented with the process- rather than just cutting the bamboo pieces to length, I sized up each bamboo strip to where I was going to attach it on the frame to make sure the natural curve of the bamboo fit well. I utilised a lot more rattan cane than in the past. I also soaked the strips of cane I was going to turn into rings. This made bending the cane incredibly easy and none of them snapped in the process. I used a combination of micropore tape (for lightness) bind the strips together and used a small strip of rigid brown sports tape right at the end to secure the micropore tape. I think the adhesive on the sports tape is superior and hopefully will last for the ages. Overall, the lion feels light and sturdy and the shape is less lopsided that previous.
In preparation for the next part of the build, I’ve already put an order in on taobao for the bristle fur. I’ve already bought the pom poms from a previous buy so hopefully it all arrives on time. If you’re interested, on using Taobao, use this Taobao guide to help you get set up. They are shipping overseas to a few overseas countries including Australia. Once you’re in, I bought a set of white bristle fur from here and my black set from here. The pom poms I bought from this shop. Eyes, and mirrors here. Once you’re in, use google translate to help you navigate the shop and if you need customisation, the shops will communicate with a program called Aliwangwang. If you can’t read or write Hanzi, get someone who can or again use google translate.
I had some spare time this weekend. Actually, more like I put time aside this weekend to finish the lion. I’ve got momentum on my side, all my equipment is nearby and I can see the end in sight and today I managed to complete all the bamboo sections of the frame!! Woohoo. And I must say, I did it in record time compared to my previous attempts. I like this frame. The curves of the bamboo and rattan are natural (compared to my previous lions where I used more flame to bend them into place) and I felt a lot more confident freestyling with the lengths. I was less precise and secured the bamboo and rattan cane strips to how they wanted to bend and curve.
Next step is the wiring. I may have bought too thick of a wire. I bought 2mm gauge tie wires. It’s definitely going to last and withstand the wear and tear or dancing but it’s ridiculously hard to work with. with the ears, it wasn’t so bad so I’ll see how I go manipulating it into tight corners like the eyelid.
I’ve made some significant progress since my last post. In saying that it has been a little on the slower side. I’ve been tweaking the numbers on my modelling as I’m making the frame to make sure it’s right. And so far so good. I’ve gone for a combination of bamboo and rattan cane for the next couple of sessions. My bamboo is roughly cut and the noses are just too think to smooth out. What that means is that when I try to make rings with the bamboo they look lopsided or they crack! The rattan cane is much easier to manipulate especially after they’ve been soaked in water. I’ve also adjusted how I bind the strips. I’m putting a premium on lighter weight so I’ve been experimenting with using micropore tape to secure the bamboo together and following up with a small bit of brown rigid sports tape to secure that together. So far it seems to be working.
Things have moved fairly quickly in the past few days. I’ve finished up with the main shell and the top lip.
In case you’re wondering how I can fit in making my lion in between life, it’s all about planning and creating an appropriate workspace. My set up isn’t perfect but it works for me. I typically work on the lion after dinner and before bed. It’s a great chance for me to relax my eyes from all the screen staring I do and allows me to focus on using my hands. In saying that, I do have my laptop nearby and I’m usually steaming some sort of movie that I’ve already watched and just listening to the dialogue is interesting enough (it you really want to know- I’ve watched The Master with Jet Li, Once Upon a Time in China 3, Last Hero in China, Fight Back to School 1 and 2 with Stephen Chow, God of Cookery, God of Gamblers series etc :D) . All my tools and equipment I need for making the lion sits next to my desk. I’ve got my manual with all the measurements on it on my laptop and from that I decide how many pieces I might attach. And then I get cracking! When you’ve got a movie going on and it’s dedicated lion making time, time just melts away and I get absorbed with seeing the lion shape come to life. It’s very exciting really.
The difference with the lion I am working on now compared to previous attempts is perfecting the shape and reducing the weight. I’ve got the hang of the technical aspect of binding the bamboo strips together so now I am focusing on make sure I choose the right bamboo strips for the various parts so the bamboo curves naturally without me having to use force the bamboo into shape. It has been noticeable particularly over the forehead. My forehead now looks rounded whereas previous ones have some strips bending and weird angles. Fortunately, the forehead imperfections can be hidden away by the mirror and pom poms. The weight aspect will come later when I’m papering but what I’ve found with the Liu Bei and Zhang Fei lion is that they are heavy!!!! They feel the same weight as the original but, it’ll be a form of torture for the performers to wield the lion around for a performance, especially as we’re moving to dancing a few lions together with minimal substitutions (compared to historically with one or two lions danced and 10 fresh subs ready to bust out their moves). I’m hoping to lighten the lion by using 1-2 layers of paper mache less than previous.
Talk about progress. It helps so much when there’s a roadmap and a plan. I made short work of the mouth, ears and base. I gathered my materials, cut my pieces to size and they all just fell together nicely like a jigsaw puzzle. It was also a chance to polish my diagrams with numbers. They weren’t all that clear so a little more editing on the manual.
With the Covid 19 pandemic sweeping through the world and lockdowns of most major cities including Sydney, it’s a great time and opportunity for me to resume some of my projects.
The first project I have lined up has been a work in progress since I started making detailed notes of my attempt at making Luen Fat Cheung lion. The idea is an instruction manual not too dissimilar to Chris Low’s fantastic book Restore the Roar where he regales the reader with a how to guide on building a Luo On Kee lion. This time it’s a LFC lion. The project gained further traction when I made the second Zhang Fei head. I had the chance to actually use my notes to make that head without the need for the original lion head sitting around. In that time, I also took the opportunity to neaten up my notes so they are clear and concise. And take plenty of photos. Hopefully I get the first draft completed and even better, complete the whole thing.
The second project I’ve got going is adding some brothers to the Liu Bei and Zhang Fei lion. I’m aiming to make another two at this stage- a gold and orange one with white bristle fur and a Guan Gung black and red lion (similar to the one used in the movie Last Hero in China). I’ve finally got off my butt and made the first pair of ears and the base so at least I’ve started. I’m going to aim to try to finish them both before Chinese New Year 2021. What I’m keen to do though is film the making process to give budding builders an idea of what to expect when they attempt to make their own. I also want to try to lighten it up by reducing the layers of paper. Hot tip, it’s not as hard as it looks. But it is annoying trying to find all the bits and pieces especially bamboo!!!
The third project. There’s no third project yet. I think I’ve got my hands quite full with the first two but I’d love to try to make a Luo On Kee lion one day. What projects are you guys getting up to? I’d love to hear.
That’s all from me now. Stay healthy, wash your hands, don’t touch your face and remember if you’re young and healthy, it’s not about you. It’s about your parents and your grandparents and the other vulnerable people that make up our community.
The lunar new year celebrations have continued this week around Sydney. Unfortunately, due to current Coronavirus outbreak/scare, a few local councils have postponed their community celebrations including Burwood, Eastwood, Rhodes and Ashfield. It still hasn’t stopped the lion dancers from hitting the streets to do shop performances, nor did it dampen the mood of the local Cabramatta/ Fairfield City Vietnamese community with hosting the annual Hoi Cho Tet at Fairfield Showground.
The atmosphere of the Cho Tet was fun. It was a very hot day at around 40 degrees but even when I arrived at 9.30pm, the celebratory atmosphere was ongoing. There was plenty of live performances throughout the night on the main stage ( I got to catch the Viet Vo Dao/ Vovinam team do an exciting performance. I can’t get enough of the spinning scissor kicks to flip their opponents. There was also a lot of singing and parading) and in the surrounding tents. There was a mock Cho Ben Thanh facade complete with live band and karaoke; bingo/ lotto with the ever alluring host singing the numbers in ballads. There were stalls promoting Vietnamese culture such as flower decorating and calligraphy, the local 1st Canley Heights Scout group (a local Vietnamese scouts group that I had joined as a child and is still active in the community to promote Vietnamese culture, life skills to the youth of the community) had a stall to promote Vietnamese culture and to rally to help out with a bushfire appeal, women’s welfare, art, support to the old South Vietnam veterans and of course plenty of food. The aromas of bbq’d bo la lot (beef wrapped in betel leaf skewers), bbq’d corn, bun dac biet, baby duck eggs, and various che- green slugs, basil seed drinks, sugarcane drink, iced lemon tea was overwhelming. It brings me back to my youth and to dreams of what it was like for my parents and relatives to grow up in Vietnam. I can only imagine an excitingly fun time!
Sydney Choy Lee Fut
The Choy Lee Fut school had been around for a fairly long time and they reliably bring around the firecrackers if the shops wanted them. There has been a thread around on one of the Facebook lion dancing groups regarding whether people prefer firecrackers or not. I am 100% firecrackers. I love it. The sounds, the smells, the red paper everywhere, the chaoticness of it. To me, it’s the climax to a performance. It just makes the show complete. I don’t feel there is a need for the players to rush into the firecrackers. They can stay back in safety from the explosions and smoke, relax and enjoy the show. There’s nothing like a sea of red carpet for the dancers to dance on.