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Ink Painting & Brush Art

Introduction of this great art format and useful informations for you to start this journey

“When I paint, I let my heart lead my hand...”

Overview of Ink Painting

Starting around 4000 B.C. traditional Chinese painting has developed continuously over a period of more than six thousand years.  Its growth has inevitably reflected the changes of time and social conditions.  In its early stage of development, Chinese ink painting was closely related to the other crafts, from pottery to the decorations used on the bronzes, carved jade and lacqerware. 

Following the introduction of Buddhism to China from India during the 1st century A.D. and the consequent carving of grottoes and building of temples, the art of painting religious murals gradually gained in prominence.

The range of subject matters dealt with in figure painting was extended far beyond religious themes during the Song dynasty(960-1127),.  Paintings of historical character and stories of everyday life became extremely popular.  Techniques were also further refined. 

Landscape painting had already established itself as an independent form of expression by the 4th century.  Then gradually developed into the two separate styles of “blue-and-green landscapes” and “ink-and-wash landscape”.  The blue-and-green landscape used bright blue, green and red pigments derived from minerals to create a richly decorative style.  The ink-and wash landscape relied on vivid brushwork and varying degrees of intensity of ink to express the artist's conception of nature, and his own emotions and individuality. 

Flower-and-bird painting  was separated from decorative art to form an independent genre around the 9th century.  A great many artists painted in this genre during the Song dynasty and their subject matter included a rich variety of flowers, fruits, insects and fish.  Many of the scholar painters working with ink and brush used a great economy of line.  They  produced paintings of such things as plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo, chrysanthemums, pines and cypresses, using their subject matter to reflect their own ideals and character. 

Modern painters have often mixed several colors on one brush or mixed their colors with black inks.  As a result, they have obtained more natural and richly varied colors.  Such techniques have been widely adopted and further developed in the contemporary period.

Tools and Materials

“The use of a fine and soft brush allows you to produce varied strokes. The use of silk cloth and paper creates a unique interplay between ink and surface, which develops into various painting techniques ”

Types and Hair Sources of Brushes

Chinese painting use a large variety of brushes. Here are the three most used models:

  1. Brush with hairs of goat: Yang Hao. Very flexible, it is generally used to paint great surfaces and for gradations of colours.

  2. Brush with hairs of weasel: Lang Hao. It is used for the more precise layouts such as contours, the bamboos, the trees and the rocks.

  3. Brush with hairs of goat and weasel: Jian Hao. Constituted of an external crown of flexible goat hairs with an interior end of hard wolf hairs, it combines the quality of the two preceding brushes.

The brush is composed of the tip, the belly (midsection), and the base (near the shaft).

Ink and Inkstone

Traditionally, Chinese painters use an ink in the shape of solid sticks. Before painting it must be rubbed on a stone with a little water. It could obtain various densities of ink according to the time of rubbing. Stone ink must be provided with a lid to prevent that ink does not dry when it is not used. (If it dries, which arrives inevitably even with a lid, you can add a little water.) You can get many sizes and many forms of ink stones. It is even considered as art.

But now, we use very good black inks in small can for the penmanship and tubes of water ink for all the colours in painting.

You need small saucers for the colours (a quite smooth plate can make the deal). You can mix them and add water to obtain the colour and the density you want. They should be used in small quantity because if they get dry, even if you can add water, they lose their qualities.

Xuan Paper (Rice Paper)

The most common type of Chinese painting paper is xuan paper, and can be further classified into raw xuan and mature xuan paper.

1. Raw xuan paper is not processed and has a higher ability to absorb water, allowing the ink to blur and produce special effects. This is suitable for xieyi-style painting. The most famous xuan paper is from Xuancheng in Anhui, China.

2. Mature xuan paper is traded with alum, making it less absorbent, which allows applying layers and layers of colors. This is appropriate for gongbi-style painting.


There are various specifications of xuan paper. Select the proper one according to the desired size and technique.

Supplementary Tools

Water Bowl is for washing brushes and dipping water

Table cover is to be placed under the paper. Beginners can use felt or even newspaper.

A carry-brushes (generally made in ceramic) to pose the brushes when you paint : the end would not touch the table. Some also use carry-brushes made in wood provided with hooks to suspend and make thus dry the brushes.

Paperweights to maintain the paper sheet.

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