As mentioned in past blogs, many incarcerated individuals lack access to regular paint art supplies and quality art paper.  Hence, they are forced to be innovative and resourceful with what they have at hand. 

In this P.A.T.H. blog, I am delighted to share with you the work of Lian Ke that she managed to produce while serving a year’s prison time at a Santa Clara County Jail during 2017. Personally, I really love Lian’s paintings.  Aside from being creative using food materials she had at hand, what I love most are the bright saturated colors, her Sumi-style expressionistic brush strokes, and the textural quality of her work. 

For these paintings, Lian used various flavors of ‘Cool Off Drink Aid Mix’, milk, beet juice and mustard condiment as a watercolor. A pencil eraser from a short 3" pencil was employed in lieu of a paint brush .  And, as far as paper surface, Lian used the back of a 9x12 manila legal size research envelope that has the seam running down the middle, top and bottom of it. 

Since various flavors of the Drink Mix was used, her paintings are actually scented – could be any combination of Grape, Berry Punch, Raspberry, Lemonade and/or Orange).

Says, Lian: 

Painting is my PASSION, and it helps make time pass faster. I love making different media and letting the painting sometimes ‘paint’ itself by the way the paint ends up.  The drink mix is definitely a first, and then you start experimenting with milk mixtures and beet juice…and condiments!  I didn’t have a yellow until I got some mustard – it stains clothing – so I thought PERFECT! I found my yellow.

Art is definitely a path – an outlet to express (and relieve frustrations) especially when locked up (in jail/prison). My best art I think are the ones where I just paint whatever comes out of my hand without thinking. 

Some of Lian's paintings can be seen at the "UNCHAINED ARTISTS" exhibit  in Mill Valley through March 23rd.

Note:  Sumi art, ink and wash painting (and in this case – Cool Off Drink Aid painting) does not aim to simply reproduce the appearance of the subject, but to capture its spirit.  For instance, “…to paint a horse, the artist must understand its temperament better than its muscles and bones. To paint a flower, there is no need to perfectly match its petals and colors, but it is essential to convey its liveliness and fragrance. East Asian ink wash painting may be regarded as a form of expressionistic art that captures the unseen”.



Leslie Lakes, Director

Art Titles:


Yorkshire Terrier 


Tree and Mountain


Fantasy Dragon 

Pink Mustang Horse



Appaloosa Horse



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