Tea gardens in China blur the line between natural and man-made. The word "garden" conjures up images of tended flower borders and perennials. However, tea growing in China has dominated the landscape to such an extent that we could easily forget it is the result of cultivation by man; whole swathes of the countryside as far as the eye can see are mapped out in rows of camellia sinensis sinensis, and they look as if they have been there since the beginning of time. Some of the tea gardens we visited were beautiful in a manicured way, whereas others had a more organic culture, and the difference could be felt in the sound of insects humming and birdsong. These latter gardens felt less like a garden and more like a wildlife reserve.
We arrived at a tea garden near Anji just in time to see the newly-harvested leaves being spread out to wither. The light was fading outside and the bright greens in the tea garden around us softened to blue. The tea pickers were gathered together after their long day, giggling and pointing at the new visitors.
My collagraph landscape prints are an impression of the gardens in Anji. I wanted to retain softness in the finished print, and also incorporate a sense of emptiness in some areas (inspired by the principles of traditional Chinese landscape painting). As the tea landscape is essentially a juxtaposition of natural and man-made environment, I felt my impression required a similar yin and yang approach to tonal contrast – light tones are provided in the collagraphs by PVA glue on the collage plate, whereas the dark tones are given by sprinkling carborundum grit. These simple materials allow contrasting tones without hard edges.