The award-winning author of more than 100 children's books, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent has a keen eye for the nuances of nature.

The same eye, in fact, that saw something spectacular in the art of Lian Zhen, an internationally renowned Chinese painter whose work she became entranced with years ago.

"I fell in love with the look of what he did," said Patent, a longtime Missoulian whose nature-based children's books are sold worldwide.

Three years ago, Patent, whose life outside of literature includes a passion for watercolor, attended a Chinese painting workshop led by Lian Zhen in Jackson, Wyo. So struck was she by the experience that she almost immediately began working to get the famed artist to Missoula.

Zhen, who was a physician in China before moving to the United States, has achieved international fame with his vibrant animal, outdoor, still life and landscapes painted in the Chinese watercolor style.

Three years after the Jackson workshop, Zhen is making his way to Missoula to lead a weeklong workshop on the art and techniques of Chinese watercolor, which differs from its Western counterpart in stark and subtle ways.

The brushes and brushstroke techniques of Chinese watercolor, for starters, are quite different, resulting in more defined and colorful outcomes.

The watercolors themselves are also thicker than Western watercolor artists use, so the paint sticks to the paper much more readily, creating less of a "washed" look.

But the most interesting difference lies in the artist's perspective, said Patent. Chinese artists tend to view a scene or setting more linearly, as if working from all viewpoints rather than a single frame of reference.

It gives paintings like those from Zhen "an emotional quality" that Patent found fascinating.

Zhen, who has art and architecture degrees from UC Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a dedicated pedagogue who leads workshops around the country, and is the author of several books on the Chinese techniques.

His teaching style appeals to beginners and masters, said Patent.

"There were two or three professionals (at the workshop) to a woman who'd never picked up a brush before," she said. "He was wonderful with everyone."

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

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