Chinese painting is a beautiful art form, where ink is used with calligraphy-like strokes to capture mostly natural scenes. The techniques and materials used in classic Chinese brush painting can still be used today to make Asian-inspired art for your home.
A History of Chinese Painting
Chinese painting in the traditional style is very exacting and labor intensive. It takes a lot of time to learn how to perfect the brush strokes. That's why aristocrats were some of the most famed artists during the imperial era--they had time to work on their art.
The traditional materials used were very simple: an animal-hair brush and calligraphy ink. Black and colored inks were used to paint on silk or paper. Landscapes have always been popular subjects. Some periods preferred busy paintings, while some emphasized simplicity in a piece of fruit or a painting of an animal. Color, too, went in and out of style.
The definitive guide to Chinese painting was published in 1679 and is known as the Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden. It's still used by practitioners of the craft today.
When the communists took over China, Western painting techniques and socialist themes were adopted in much popular art. However, the traditional ways have managed to stay alive and be passed on around the world.
Learning Chinese Painting
As mentioned earlier, true Chinese painting is not a simple thing. It takes practice and patience to develop your technique. But, that doesn't mean you can't pick up the basics and use them to create decorative objects for your home. It's not too difficult to learn some basic brush work and make your own paintings, or use the techniques on greeting cards or other crafts.
One good thing about learning Chinese painting is that you do not need a lot of supplies to get started. There are special brushes that are used, but a basic watercolor brush can be used, at least while you are learning.
Black calligraphy ink and plain paper will do while you are learning the techniques, though an ink stick is used traditionally. The dry ink comes in a stick and is ground into water to make a thick or thin ink. Different weights of ink look different on the page, and a very thick ink will appear shiny when painted on silk. See the supplies section below for more information on sources for ink sticks and other supplies.
Here are some sources for learning more about Chinese painting:
- Asia Art explains the necessary tools and the philosophy behind Chinese painting.
- Chinese Tools has a wonderful step-by-step tutorial covering all the basic techniques.
Sources for Supplies
If you decide you would like to learn more about Chinese painting, there are many sources for supplies such as silk, ink and brushes, as well as books, videos and lessons to help you on your way. Here are a few good sources to check out: