Sugar Painter Excels at Delicate Traditional Craft

December 26, 2018  Editor: Liu Yanmei
Sugar Painter Excels at Delicate Traditional Craft
Li Mei [Chongqing Evening News]


A 33-year-old tailor from southwest China's Chongqing has become one of the leading local experts in Chinese sugar painting thanks to years of efforts, according to a recent profile.

Sugar painting is an ancient traditional form of folk art using hot, liquid sugar to create two dimensional figures.

Several of Li Mei’s works are included in a special exhibition of intangible cultural heritages from Chongqing, which opened on December 7.

In her earlier days, she grew up in a village where her home was over seven kilometers from her school, and she had to walk 15 kilometers to and fro school every day.

"For this reason, many of my classmates dropped out. I also gave up in seventh grade," Li said, and this became her greatest regret in life.

When she was 14, Li could not find a job, so she carried a box around to polish shoes and earned just a few yuan a day.

Soon, her parents sent her to learn to become a tailor. Six months later, she opened a tailoring shop in her village.

This experience laid a foundation for her later creation of sugar paintings.

Li's grandpa was a sugar painting master. In her eyes, the sugar pictures her grandfather made have brought much joy to children in the village.

Li began to learn sugar painting from her grandpa at the age of 17. Whilst she worked as a tailor, she sold sugar paintings on the side.

There are three materials commonly used in this art: white sugar, brown sugar and crystal sugar. The first two are hard to control. If heated too much, they easily turn black. However, crystal sugar is prohibitively expensive.

Early on, Li’s grandpa suggested using maltose wheat. By using the new raw material, which was common in rural areas, her business got even better.

Traditional sugar paintings are flat – made from spoonfuls of sugar drawn onto the surface of oiled marble slabs.

"One day, I thought to myself, 'Why not try a three-dimensional sugar painting?' " said Li.

During the exploration phase, she used golden maltose to make different three-dimensional patterns. 

Gradually, she wanted to enhance her work with color. She added radish red, spinach green and other vegetable colors with boiling water to add variety to her paintings.

In Li's display cabinet, there are many works that have been made after countless trials and errors.

In her opinion, the most difficult was the making of a pair of purple crystal high heels. The shoes, which look like glass slippers in fairy tale, are made of maltose in one color, of varied thicknesses, and with different techniques.

"The hard days in my childhood did not erase my yearning for a better life. My works are indicators of my hope for a beautiful future, are they?" Li said.

(Source: Chongqing Evening News/Translated and edited by Women of China)

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