Just as its name implies, sugar painting, an eatable delicacy, and an exquisite painting are described as a kind of painting created with hot, liquid sugar. It is commonly known as “sugar shadow puppet”, “sugar figurine” or “sugar pancake” among Chinese people. Even to this day, the folk art of sugar painting is still popular in streets and lanes, being a sweet memory deeply lingering in the hearts of generations of Chinese people. The technique of Li’s Sugar Painting at Longxing Town, at its sixth generation, was included in the sixth batch of intangible cultural heritage list of Yubei District.
Because of her love for sugar painting, Li Mei, the sixth-generation inheritor of Li’s Sugar Painting, did not go out to work like her peers, but stayed in Longxing Ancient Town and took care of the sugar painting business of her family.
Li Mei runs her sugar painting stall in Longmen Gate South of Longxing Ancient Town. During holidays, this place will be jammed with visitors. Both adults’ and children’s eyes are caught on her sugar blowing skill. Li still keeps a traditional habit that the customers will first be asked to rotate the turntable with dragon and phoenix patterns for luck and then she will give them a wonderful work of sugar painting.
As sugar painting is finished in one stroke, the painter should design a pattern and the order of stroke in mind before any action. It generally takes hundreds of times of practice to finish one painting and only by doing this can the craftsman paint quickly and smoothly without any interruption. It seems that sugar painting is easy, but it actually integrates the line drawing technique of traditional Chinese painting and the charm of paper cutting.
In 2017, the technique of Li’s Sugar Painting, which had been passed down through six generations, was on the six batches of intangible cultural heritage list of Yubei District. Together with it, the more magical and more difficult technique of sugar blowing was also selected.
In Li Mei’s opinion, the key point of sugar blowing lays in the craftsman’s skills of blowing and modeling. When the syrup is heated up to a suitable temperature, the craftsman will roll it into a ball and press a deep hole on it with the starch-stuck index finger. Next, the hole will be tightened as narrow as it can be and is drawn out until the sugar stick is thin enough. After it is broken, the sugar stick is as a thin pipe through which the craftsman can blow and model the syrup ball. With accurate technique and a simple, vivid model needed, the whole process takes painstaking training as a price.
However, sugar figurines made through the traditional process of sugar blowing don’t meet hygienic standards, so they are only for appreciating but not for eating. To make sugar figurines attractive and sanitary, Li Mei made herself an airbag for blowing as a replacement for the mouth. After that, she can press down the pedal to rapidly finish blowing after the airbag is connected with the sugar stick.
She needs to construct the shape of a sugar figurine in her mind while controlling the strength of pressing. If she presses too hard, the figurine will break easily; if she presses too lightly, the work will be unsatisfactory. Therefore, it took Li Mei a year to become proficient in the use of the airbag.
As a long-standing skill with a history of thousands of years, sugar painting will bloom in modern society. Craftsmen of sugar painting can be seen everywhere, from temple fairs in the ancient town to folk custom exhibitions, cultural exchanges, and other activities. The technique of Longxing Sugar Painting, which has been passed down for hundreds of years, is a sweet embellishment in people’s lives and a priceless treasure in the eyes of craftsmen.
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