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A Sweet Art, Sugar Painting


In Sichuan Province of southwestern China, it is usual to see some folk artists producing sugar paintings along the streets, in the parks, and around the schools. The artist uses the bronze spoon and shovel as the tool, and the slab of marble as the “paper”. The liquid brown sugar or white sugar is the raw material.


The artists normally sit before a wooden stand where there is a polished slab of marble in the middle. On the side there is a wooden plate with a revolvable bamboo arrow on it. The plate is painted with various patterns in a circle such as a Chinese dragon, bird, dog, flower basket and so forth. After paying about 1 or 2 yuan, the customer, normally kids, turn the arrow and wait till it stops. The pattern pointed by the arrow is the one the artist is supposed to make with sugar.


To acquire liquid sugar, the painter has to cook the solid sugar in a pot before painting. The liquid sugar falls down as a thin thread onto the “paper” from the slanting spoon. After a short while, a plane animal is created. Then the painter separates the painting from the marble with a shovel, puts a wooden prod on the painting, and gives it to the kid. In the sunshine, holding the shining sugar painting when walking along the street, the child is proud and happy.


As a unique art for producing artistic pieces entirely composed of sugar, sugar painting is very different from normal painting. First, since the liquid sugar could freeze solid if it cools, the painter has to produce the work very quickly. Second, the painter has to follow some orders of strokes and draw a continuous line into a picture of an animal or other pattern.


Sugar painting originated from the Ming Dynasty when sugar figures were made in molds as part of a sacrifice in religious rituals. In the Qing Dynasty, sugar painting gained more popularity. The molds were also replaced with a small bronze spoon. As time passed by, the contemporary form of sugar painting has gradually evolved.


Although the number of sugar painters has decreased, due to its unique charm, a certain number of artists are making sustained efforts to preserve it by offering classes, holding relevant activities such as sugar painting contests.


Nowadays, this art is garnering support again. It has already been listed as Provincial Non-Material Culture Heritage by the Sichuan Government.

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