Issue 2: Making Conversation

The Art of Imagery in Drawing: Landscape of Memory

This essay discusses my research on the art of imagery in the creation of drawings, which is combined with examples of artworks and my personal artistic practice to discuss the influence of landscape, imagery, and picturesque concepts on my creative thinking.

Drawing is a way of visualising and capturing concrete and abstract objects. It is a method of recording significant events and items in our environment, as well as interior emotions, things that are difficult to observe, or memories in the mind that are unknown to others. Figurative and abstract forms of creation are two prevalent genres in creating artwork; however, there is another essential type of creation in between figurative and abstract art: imagery art. Imagery art seeks to express inner sentiments and thoughts rather than the true expression of objective facts or the ultimate abstract visual expression. Although the subject matter in imagery art is based on reality, it is more than just a representation of objective things; it is also a means for the author to express ideas and irony, which is especially prevalent in various artistic and literary creations such as imagery poetry and ancient Chinese landscape painting.

While drawing can be used to record objective information, it also has a strong subjective visual expression. Memory and emotion are incredibly private and personal experiences that only the “owner” understands. To express this series of ineffable abstractions in a slightly more subtle manner, it is frequently necessary to borrow a series of objective things as a carrier, which then becomes a combination of the object itself and human subjective emotions and thoughts and is endowed with transcendent meanings to refer to specific conscious thoughts. “Imagery” is a creative method used in art and literature. Poets, novelists, and film directors frequently use “imagery” to satirise harsh reality and portray things with highly rendered emotional expressions, and this type of creative style is also used in drawing. Landscape is a popular sort of “imagery” in the creation of art. Artists frequently utilize a landscape or a flower as a metaphorical reference for their work, which is also the primary creative tool I apply in my drawing practice. The humanistic attitude instilled in the natural topographical landscapes during their historical evolution lends them a unique importance in the creation of art.

What is landscape?

Ziqi Cheng, View of Montenegro with the old city wall, (2023)

When people talk about landscape, they might think of a certain scene exhibited in a region, which may be described as an aesthetically pleasing visual effect, a synthesis of ecosystems with surrounding environmental variables and human cultural activities. Landscapes are usually divided into natural and human landscapes, which mainly include physical elements, human elements, temporary factors, etc. From the geophysical definition, mountains, rivers, oceans, and vegetation can be called landscapes, while structures built by human beings such as houses in the mountains and wilderness, light illumination in the environment, and climatic conditions are all elements in the landscapes. The geography and human activities in various places, which have evolved over tens of millions of years, along with local climatic circumstances, might result in a landscape that is unique to a region. A landscape can thus be defined as a hill, a mountain, a marsh, a lake, or a human artefact such as a fossil or a terraced field, and these distinct settings have formed the subject of various imagery art creations.

The term “landscipe” or “landscaef” initially appeared in the English language after the Anglo-Saxons arrived in the fifth century A.D. Dutch painters introduced the present form and meaning of “landscape” in the late sixteenth century, when they used the word “landschap” to refer to paintings of inland natural lakes and farmland settings. In today’s world, the dictionary defines “landscape” in the following way: “everything you can see when you look across a large area of land, especially in the country; the woods and fields that are typical features of the English landscape and an urban landscape; the bleak/barren/rugged landscape of the area; the mountains dominate the landscape.” (Definition of landscape noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). As a result, the specificity of the earth’s surface and the general region visible to the observer became the most widely disseminated conceptions of the landscape.

What is imagery?

“ The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.”

Ezra Pound, In a Station of the Metro, (1913)

The word “imagery” usually refers to a vision of something with abstract feelings and thoughts that emerges after the objective thing has been processed by subjective thinking. It is a conscious image in the brain, produced by human consciousness. The unique nature of imagery as a combination of objective things and subjective consciousness makes it very important in literary creation, and it also gave birth to Imagism, an early twentieth-century poetry movement in Britain and America that advocated precise imagery and clear, sharp language. Ezra Pound, the most representative poet of Imagism, defines imagery in A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste: “An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” (Poetry, 1913). This clarifies that imagery is a product of human consciousness. “Imagery”, written in Chinese as “意 (yi) 象 (xiang) ”, is a vital concept in ancient Chinese literature. In ancient Chinese thinking, “yi (meaning)” refers to the inner abstract feelings and concepts, whereas “xiang (image)” refers to the outward physical objects. The “image” is the external concrete item that serves as a support for the “meaning.” Landscape imagery is not only used to express emotions but can also be used to refer to character and spirit. For example, since ancient times in China, the three plants of pine, bamboo and plum have been known as the “Three Friends in Cold Weather”, which is used as a metaphor to refer to the resilience and perseverance of the people.

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, Oil on canvas, (1889)

Putting emotions into the surroundings is a popular creative approach used in all art disciplines, whether it be drawing, painting, film, or photography. Van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889), as well as Paul Cézanne’s Montagne Sainte Victoire (1886), are all paintings in which the artist’s subjective world is blended into the objective surroundings, and strong visual and sensory effects are used to portray the artist’s strong feelings.

Drawings in the Landscape: Picturesque

“But when nature works in the bold, and singular stile of composition, in which she works here — when she raises a country through a progress of a hundred miles; and then breaks it down at once by an abrupt precipice into an expansive vale, we are immediately struck with the novelty, and grandeur of the scene.”

William Gilpin, Observations on the River Wye: and several parts of South Wales, &c. relative chiefly to picturesque beauty, (1770)

Landscape is closely related to literary creation, which first appeared in Australian Aboriginal mythology, then as a literary genre in the form of idyllic poetry, and has since evolved into a variety of landscape art categories, including landscape painting, landscape photography, and so on. Landscapes, particularly those associated with human civilization activities, have a certain humanistic and artistic worth, which can reflect the cultural identity of a region and the cultural differences of different regions and therefore can be given a deeper meaning. People begin to look at the scenery around them from a certain aesthetic point of view and aesthetic height as human civilization progresses, and when the landscape is endowed by human beings with meanings higher than the pure natural scenery itself, people begin to show the artistic value of the landscape they observe, and the landscape is no longer just a landscape.

Kibong Rhee, Where You Stand D-1, Acrylic and polyester fibre on canvas, 186 x 186 cm, 73 1/4 x 73 1/4 inches, (2022)

In truth, perceiving landscapes as pictures has a long history. As an aesthetic ideal, picturesque was first defined in 1768 by William Gilpin, an English artist and Church of England cleric, in Essay On Prints: “that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture”. As a result, the concept of picturesque became increasingly popular, and people began to recognise that the landscape itself had an aesthetic value and that the overlapping of natural objects in nature also caused significant aesthetic shock to mankind.

Landscape and Imagery Art: An Example of Chinese Landscape Painting

Chinese landscape painting is an excellent example of using imagery to its greatest potential in the realm of art. Chinese landscape art appears to be landscape painting, but it is not. With the continual growth of humanistic art in China since ancient times, these landscape paintings were gradually given rich cultural meanings by ancient literati, creating a history of thought and the most profound crystallisation of Chinese cultural concepts. As the times changed, the ancient Chinese literati discovered a new setting for expression in natural landscapes, pouring out their emotions with graceful rhythms and states of mind while depicting natural landscapes with ink and brush.

Ma Yuan, Boating near Lake Shore with Reeds, (mid-13th century)

Boating near Lake Shore with Reeds (mid-13th century) by Southern Song dynasty painter Ma Yuan, presently in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, has only the upper and lower portions of the picture, with the exception of a vast stretch of white space and no more ink in the middle section. The upper half of the picture contains a few brushstrokes of faraway mountains, while the lower half contains a lone boat and a few reeds in the near distance, as well as a man in white huddled inside the boat, staring blankly at the distant countryside. The white space in the majority of the painting allows for endless dreaming, as well as the author’s frustration at not being able to attain success at the time and his deep longing for his hometown. Nowadays, Chinese landscape painting has been expanded into a variety of genres, but the pictorial approach of using the brush to draw meaning and communicate emotions to things persists and has become an important aspect of Chinese landscape painting.

Landscape of Memory: The Connotations Ascribed to Landscape in My Drawing Practice

Landscape has no independent awareness as a natural element, but people pour their subjective thought into it, giving it artistic worth and humanistic importance. It is also the foundation of my drawing practice to project my feelings and thoughts onto the scenery around me and turn it into the subject of my artistic production. The camphor trees in my hometown and the mountains I saw when I travelled hold a lot of my feelings and memories from that period, and I am frightened of forgetting them. Mountains and camphor trees have become common images in my artwork in order to document these abstract emotions and recollections, and the natural textures on their surfaces have artistic worth as well as carrying my sense of disquiet and complex emotions about the passing of memories.

Ziqi Cheng, Mountains of Montenegro, (2023)

When I first stood in front of these undulating mountains in Montenegro in February 2023 for fieldwork, I was struck by the fact that, unlike elsewhere, the region’s unique latitude and altitude have created a karst landscape with visually appealing textures on the surface of the mountains. The mountains seemed more like a sketch to me because of how creative nature was; the shadows of the trees and rocks were like dots and lines under the sun. It was the first time I saw a drawing in a natural landscape, and I anxiously attempted with my eyes and my brain to memorise the sight in front of me and also photographed it with my camera. I was terrified of forgetting these views and wanted to document everything I saw, but my perception of these mountains differed from the camera’s objective record. What I wanted to remember were the mountains with dots and lines like a drawing in my eyes, not a flawless replica of the real mountains. As a result, I began to draw the mountains I remembered in my brain’s memory, which is incorrect. This mountain is no longer the original one; it is the carrier of my memories, and I need to recall the mountains that caused me visual shock at the time. These mountains gradually became the carriers of my memories that I did not want to forget, the archives of my visual world. Mountains became imagery as a result of my subjective consciousness.

Ziqi Cheng, Mountain! Mountain!: Experiments, Acrylic on print, 100 x 28 cm, (2023)
Ziqi Cheng, Mountain! Mountain!, Etching, (2023)

Later in the “Landscape of Memory” project, I continued to use landscapes as imagery to convey my emotions and recollections. Camphor trees can be found everywhere in my hometown. They became a part of my memories and grew up with me as if they were family. Years later, these camphor trees will always remind me of my hometown. My life changed dramatically as I grew older; my grandfather passed away, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer three times, and only these camphor trees remained as if nothing had happened. The texture of the trunks of these camphor trees gradually became more and more like the scars left on my grandmother’s body after her operation, which could not be wiped away or returned to the past but would be there forever, so these camphor trees carried my nostalgia and memories of my family. I transferred images of camphor trees in my hometown onto drawing paper and combined them with pencil drawings during the creative stage. I changed the position of the ink thinner sprayed and the length of time it lasted in the transferring process to create a different effect from the original photographs, giving a sense of “fading memories”. What appears to be the rough texture of a tree trunk done in pencil is actually my memories being corroded by time and the painful feeling that things are no longer what they once were.

Ziqi Cheng, Scars of Memory, Part two: II, Image transfer, magnetic powder and pencil drawing on paper, 420 x 297 mm, (2023)
Ziqi Cheng, Scars of Memory, Part one: I, Image transfer and pencil drawing on paper, 297 x 420mm, (2023)

Investigating the Meaning of Drawing

Landscape, whether as small as a mountain or as large as an ocean, can be given a meaning beyond itself when human activities are involved. When it has been integrated with human life, precisely because it is natural, there is more space to be given a deeper meaning, which can be a kind of mood, emotion, or memory. Landscape can be viewed as imagery, a carrier of personal thoughts and emotions, and drawing can become a significant means of expressing this subjective consciousness. Creation should be more than just an objective record of reality; it should also contain the creator’s personal thoughts and emotional worth, which is also the meaning of drawing and the power of creative creation.


Ziqi Cheng, Scars of Memory, Part two: II (landscape), Image transfer and pencil drawing on paper, 420 x 297 mm, (2023)

Ziqi Cheng, View of Montenegro with the old city wall, (2023)

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, Oil on canvas, (1889)

Available at:

Kibong Rhee, Where You Stand D-1, 2022, Acrylic and polyester fibre on canvas, 186 x 186 cm, 73 1/4 x 73 1/4 inches, (2022)

Available at:

Ma Yuan, Boating near Lake Shore with Reeds, (Mid-13th century)

Available at:;jsessionid=1B8099F8EBD033C0D7106A5472FA49A1?ctx=386ee066-8ee5-466f-9f9f-e32a35f658a6&idx=2

Ziqi Cheng, Mountains of Montenegro, (2023)

Ziqi Cheng, Mountain! Mountain!: Experiments, Acrylic on print, 100 x 28 cm, (2023)

Ziqi Cheng, Mountain! Mountain!, Etching, (2023)

Ziqi Cheng, Scars of Memory, Part two: II, Image transfer, magnetic powder and pencil drawing on paper, 420 x 297 mm, (2023)

Ziqi Cheng, Scars of Memory, Part one: I, Image transfer and pencil drawing on paper, 297 x 420mm, (2023)


Hood, Edward J. (1996). “Social Relations and the Cultural Landscape”. In Landscape Archaeology:Reading and Interpreting the American Historical Landscape. Yamin, Rebecca and Karen Bescherer Metheny, eds. Knoxville:The University of Tennessee Press.

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

GIBSON, W.S. (1989). Mirror of the Earth: The World Landscape in Sixteenth-Century Flemish Painting. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey

Yves-Marie Allain and Janine Christiany. (2006). L’Art des jardins en Europe, Citadelles and Mazenod, Paris.

Ruskin, J. (1872). Modern Painters, volume three, “Of the novelty of landscape”.

Ayers, D. (2004) H. D., Ezra Pound and Imagism, in Modernism: A Short Introduction. Blackwell Publishers. 

Pound, E. (1913). “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste”. Poetry. I(6)

Carpenter, Humphrey. (1988). A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 

Gilpin, W. (2000). quoted in Baker, Kenneth, ed. The Faber Book of Landscape Poetry. New York: Faber and Faber.

Jones, Peter (ed.) (1972). Imagist Poetry. Penguin.

Wącior, Sławomir, (2007). Explaining Imagism: The Imagist Movement in Poetry and Art. Edwin Mellen Press.

Gilpin, W. (1770). Observations on the River Wye: and several parts of South Wales, &c. relative chiefly to picturesque beauty; made in the summer of the year 1770, second edition, by William Gilpin, London: printed for R. Blamire, 1789.

Rawson, Jessica (ed.) (2007). The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, British Museum Press (2nd edn).

Barnhart, Richard, et al., ed. (2002). Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Cahill, J. (1960). Chinese Painting. Geneva: Albert Skira.

About the author

Ziqi Cheng is an artist based in China, working in drawing, printmaking and illustration. Ziqi graduated from MA Fine Art: Drawing at Camberwell College of Arts in 2023. Find out more at:

Artist Website:


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