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Chinese Ink Painting Techniques

Chinese ink painting is an ancient art that has evolved and become refined over many centuries.

“Chinese ink painting emphasizes concept and composition. Concept is the idea, and composition is the position, proportion and color arrangement within the painting.

Here we will discuss how to set your posture, how to hold the brush, how to use water, ink and  some basic painting techniques.

How to Set Your Posture

Sit up straight on a chair, close to the table. Settle yourself with your present. Take a few deep breath right down to the lower part of your abdomen (丹田, dān tián). 


Put the paper in front of you at a right angle. If you are left-handed, place the paper several inches (about 10 cm) to the left so that you can see the tip of the brush while drawing. 

Keep your elbow free from the table, a few inches (about 5 cm) away from the torso.

How to Hold Your Brush

How to Hold the Brush

Having the correct grip can help you paint smoothly. When working on a large-scale painting, keep your elbow and waist above the table. When working on a small-scale painting, your arm can rest gently on the table.


First, keep the brush fairly straight up. Make an effort to avoid holding it leaning toward you like a pen.

Gripping the brush loosely between index finger and thumb.

Then, wrap your middle finger slightly around the outside of this grip so that the pen rests just inside the pad of the middle finger.

The ring finger goes further down and makes contact of the brush on its side or back.

The little finger does not touch the brush but rather wraps inside the ring finger to give it added strength. Do not stick your little finger out: even though it doesn’t touch the brush, it is helpful in supporting the ring finger.

The Brush should not be touching your palm. Also, there should be a considerable gap between your index finger and thumb: your palm should be empty. The grip should be quite loose and close to the tip of the Brush. The diagrams provided show the correct and incorrect placement of each finger, as well as a clearly improper grip.

hold brush.gif
Maintain the bursh.jpg

The important thing to note about this grip is that you will be using different fingers to accomplish each possible axis of movement. The index finger will do most of the work drawing the brush down the page, while the thumb opposes it and brings the brush up the page. The middle finger flexes in toward the palm and to the right of the page, while the ring and little finger oppose it.

Wrist flexion is also very important. If the wrist is too bent, your Calligraphy will not be fluid, but rather abrupt. A good rule of thumb is that there should be no visible line on the top of your wrist where the skin is bending. A slight bend upward is to be expected, but keeping the wrist relatively straight and loose is your objective.

Ho to Load Your Brush

How to Load Your Brush?

When taking ink from your Ink Slab, simply dip the brush tip in the Ink Reservoir or on to the Grinding Surface if you have no Reservoir. Unlike Western Brushes, Calligraphy Brushes are designed to be saturated with Ink from the point to where the Tip meets the Handle. However, loading too much Ink on your Brush can lead to some of it dripping out before you’ve reached your intended place on the page.





Never thump the brush up and down in a container, hitting the bottom. That will break the hairs off the handle.

Writing your first Chinese Character with a Chinese Brush

Why not try a character? The character ‘yong’ (永) is often considered an excellent practice character thanks to the fact that it contains all of the major Strokes. The diagram provided shows the proper Stroke Order and Brush direction for this character. Also, you can see all of the things we’ve talked about, from loading the Brush to the proper grip, in the video provided.

How to Paint with the Brush

How to Paint with the Brush?

The brush is used to produce dots, lines and surfaces. In Chinese ink painting, a complete brushstroke should have three steps: entering the stroke, moving the brush along and exiting from the stroke. Different start and finish techniques, as well as intensity and flow of strokes, produce different results.

There are four basic bush strokes. 

1. Zhongfeng (中锋,centered-tip stroke) is to use the brush tip to paint along the center of the ink line;

2. Cefeng (侧锋,side-brush stroke) is to tilt the brush at an angle, with the tip against one side of the line, pint or surface and with the belly of the brush pressed against the paper;

3. Shunning (顺峰,downstream stroke) is to paint from the top downward or from left to right;

4. Nifeng (逆锋,upstream stroke) is to paint from the bottom upward or from right to left.

To paint a thin line, lift the brush up to form a lighter line. To paint a thicker line, press down on the brush. Lifting and pressing along with different speed can create different forms of dots, lines and surfaces. Pressing the brush into the paper or rotating the bush is called dun (顿,pause).


Combining the above-mentioned techniques, Chinese painting brushwork have the main strokes as below: 

1. Outlining is to depict the shape of the object using the centered-tip stroke to create smooth lines.

2. Cun (皴) stroke is to portray the texture and create 3-D effect of the object. It can be done with the centered-tip or side-brush stroke with dark or light ink.

3. Ca (擦) is similar to cun, which means gently using the side-brush stroke to create broken and blurred texture, leaving a very light brush trace. 

4. Dotting and dyeing is to use the centered-tip stoke to paint a small area. If the dotting stroke or painted area is larger, it is called dyeing. It is very common in xieyi-style painting.

How to Use Water

How to Use Water?

In 600 A.D., art schools in China tested the artist's ability to mix sixteen different shades of gray ranging from black to clear water. We will only be using about eight shades of gray. You can make the gray shades by taking black paint and diluting it. Dilute means ''add water''.


Eight Shades of Gray


Dark Ink

Light  Ink

Dry Brush

Wet Brush

Charred Ink Tone

How to Use Ink

How to Use Ink?

In Chinese painting, black ink can be categorized into five shades: dark, light, dry, wet and charred. It's very important to master how to use these shades.


Dark: It has a small amount of water in the ink.

Light: It has more water in the ink turning it to gray.

Dry: It can either be dark or light but with less water in the brush.

Wet: It can either be dark or light but with more water in the brush.

Charred: It is very black with a shiny effect.

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