Chinese Painting for Dummies

The Chinese painting is the most unique in the world. It differs from the western painting in equipments used, coloration, subject matters, compositions, and presentations. On the surface, Chinese painting appears to be flat, dull, and colorless depicting the same subjects that differ only in arrangements.

Equipments

Chinese painting is as old as the Chinese calligraphy. It is a natural extension of the pointed brush that is used for the practice. Chinese found that the pointed brush could be easily adapted to painting as well. So, it is not surprising to find that a skilled calligrapher is usually well versed in painting. The black ink used comes from an ink stick grinding lightly in an ink stone mixed with water. Different techniques were developed over the ages to use the same brush to create the impression of objects found in Nature on paper.

1) Character strokes to bamboo

2) Raindrop method to show worn-off rock face

3) Chopping ax method to show rock face cleavage and hardness

4) Line width created with pressure exerted on the brush

Coloration

Chinese painting is usually drawn in black and white. By using different amount of ink and applying the right pressure on the brush, varying shades of black appear, thus, the illusion of color. However, in ancient times, a variety of minerals and plants were used to add color to the painting if so desired,

Subject matters

Western paintings are more likely to showcase everyday life objects – buildings, trees, flowers, animals, people, etc. in great details and vibrant colors. Chinese paintings are a vehicle to showcase mostly landscapes, bamboos, pine trees, and certain flowers. The Chinese artists use the paintings to express the feelings and aspirations of the moment. As a result, the objects in the painting are drawn based on memory with little emphasis on details and color. Each painting is usually accompanied with a poem or a narrative as to the purpose behind the work.

Compositions

The Chinese artists very often use the same objects but arrange them differently to create a variety of paintings to express their feelings. Like calligraphy, it takes years of practice to get all the elements – the firmness and softness of the strokes, the control of the ink distributions, the patience and consistent motions, etc. – to work together in order to achieve the desired results every time.

Western painters usually get their inspiration by watching the actual subjects before drawing them faithfully on the canvas, sometimes with perspective and emotion. Chinese painters usually get their inspirations from inside and then conjure up the best objects from memory to put them on paper. It is like creating a good poetry which depends on the mood, intuition, careful choice of words and arrangements.

Presentations

The Chinese painting is done on the same paper as the calligraphy. It is usually in the following 3 formats.

1) Album – Paintings are either drawn directly into pages inside an album or arranged into the form of an album for easy of viewing, preservation, and transport.

2) Vertical Scroll – It is the most popular format to showcase a limited subject matter from close (bottom) to far away (top). This form of painting can be easily displayed by hanging on the wall.

3) Horizontal Scroll – This format is used to showcase a variety of subject matters that represent a sort of life journey through a slice of time. Due to its length, the painting is normally kept roll up in a scroll. Upon viewing, it is opened up from right to left slowly to reveal the story line.

The artists usually leave space in the painting for their signature seal and/or a poem or a narrative. In addition, for famous paintings that pass through many hands, each new owner will sometimes put his seal and/or comment on the open space found on the painting.

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