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Chinese Watercolour: Plum Blossom

Updated on March 28, 2013
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Since school, Bronwen has been interested in art, has joined Artists' groups where she has lived, and occasionally has even won prizes.

Plum Blossom

Nation Flower of Taiwan

Plum blossom, and therefore plum trees, originated in the south of China near the Yang-tze River. They were later introduced to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and around the world. On 21st July 1964, it was announced that the plum blossom had been chosen as the official national flower of Taiwan, the Republic of China. Plum blossom was especially chosen for its resilience and ability to overcome adversity. The three stamens represent Sun Yat-Sen's Three Principles of the People, while the five petals stand for the five branches of government.

As the National Flower of Taiwan, the plum blossom is prominent in many places, including on currency of the Republic of China, in popular paintings, on company logos, on jewellery, mugs, in poems and printed on fabrics and many other articles.

In Taiwan there is a popular song about plum blossom and the tune has also been rearranged into The Plum Blossom March.

Symbolism of the Plum Blossom

Because of the facts that it flowers in winter and that the tree can live for over a hundred years, it symbolised resilience in the face of adversity and also longevity. The trunk and branches of older trees are often twisted and gnarled and are likened to a dragon. It is also claimed that plum blossom symbolises strength, hope and faith as it is the first flower to bloom in winter, thus giving hope that Spring is not far away. As well, it is prized for its delicacy and beauty as the pale flowers emerge before the leaves.

Sprays of plum blossom are often used for decoration in people's homes at the time of the Lunar New Year.

The Four Chinese Gentlemen

This is the third of my articles that explain about Chinese watercolour painting and the four Chinese Gentlemen or Nobles that represent the four seasons. The plum blossom represents Winter, as it will often flower while there is still snow on the branches.

1. Position the Flowers and Buds
1. Position the Flowers and Buds | Source

Step One

For the black paint you may wish to use ready made tube watercolour, but it is much more pleasurable to make the paint in the traditional way, grinding the ink stick with a little water on the ink stone. Make it to the darkness and thickness that you require, but for Step One it needs to be fairly pale as the petals are delicate. This traditional paint is very useful as it does not fade in light, in fact many ink paintings have survived for thousands of years. Once it is dry it does not smudge or dissolve when water is applied to the rice paper, either.

Decide where you will place the branch and twigs and, with a fairly dry brush, paint in the petals and buds along these imaginary lines. If you charge your brush with too much liquid, it will spread out on the paper and you will not have clean lines for your petals. Remember that the plum blossom has five petals, but that the flowers may be facing in different directions.

2. Add the Branch, Twigs, Leaves and Sepals
2. Add the Branch, Twigs, Leaves and Sepals | Source

Step Two

Now you can grind more of the ink stick and make the paint darker. If you wish, you can add a touch of yellow, perhaps Cadmium, to the black. Interestingly, this makes them a dark green.

  • Still without touching the paper, except with the brush, paint in the branch, the twigs and the sepals, the dark petal-like shapes that hold the flower and buds to the stems.
  • Add suggestions of leaves that may be about to burst open.
  • Finally, make a small dot in the centre of each flowers that is facing you.

3. Add the Touch of Colour
3. Add the Touch of Colour | Source

Step Three

Although the plum blossom has only three stamen, they are often painted traditionally with any number that fit artistically within the flower. The whole painting may be made simply with the ink stick paint, but often Chinese watercolour tubes are used, as in the painting above.

The Filaments

Choose a very fine brush, charge it with yellow and paint in the fine filaments, all around for the plum blossoms facing you and around the petals of others facing away and even in some of the buds that are just opening. If you are using ink stick paint, keep it fairly pale for the filaments and again keep the brush fairly dry so that the paint does not run.

The Anthers

The same brush may be used for the anthers, but here use an orange or red paint, unless you are using only the ink stick paint. In that case, make the anthers darker.

What do you think?

Do you prefer the traditional Chinese way of painting plum blossom?

See results

An Untraditional Way

Of course, you can paint in an untraditional way if you prefer more colour in your painting. The example below shows a painting that has been done in a similar manner as the plum blossom painting, but bright colour has been used. It can be attractive, but I still prefer the delicacy of the traditional painting as it is not all painted, but rather suggested.

Whatever you choose for your painting - have fun and enjoy!

4. Another Way to Paint Plum Blossom
4. Another Way to Paint Plum Blossom | Source


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    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      6 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      tobusiness: I'm glad it looks easy, it really isn't difficult and I'd love to hear about the result if you do try. I hope you really enjoy doing it. Thank you for your vote, too.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Blossom, you made this look so easy and relaxing I may just have a go. The paintings are beautiful and delicate, a very informative hub. Voting up and sharing.

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      6 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Mhatter99: Thank you for visiting and your lovely comment.

      Silkekarina: Thank you so much for your comments and story about your plum tree. They really do get gnarled with age, don't they?

      Frank Atanacio: I'm so glad that you enjoyed it.

      MsDora: Thank you. You could probably do the same, I'm sure. You always write so well.

      suzettenaples: I do hope you try, it's so satisfying creating a painting and it's not really very difficult.

      dghbrh: Thank you for sharing it and for your vote and comments.

      WillStarr: I guess that comes from having been a teacher. I just love to share such things as they give me great pleasure.

      Kathryn Stratford: They are pretty and delicate, too. I hope you do try sometime.

      Amy Becherer: Thank you for your lovely comments, I'm not at all sure I deserve them. I'm sure there are lots of other people who are much better than I am. I just enjoy doing it. It would be interesting to know how you go trying it in oils. I paint in oils, too.

      Shara63: I love sharing it. There are so many beautiful things in this world and it's great to be able to appreciate them in trying to put them down on paper.

      Eiddwen: Thank you for your vote. I've been having a lovely day with all these wonderful comments. I hope you have a very special Easter.

      cat on a soapbox: Thank you for your comments and good wishes. Actually it's autumn here, but I'm enjoying that, too.

      AudreyHowitt: I don't think the next one's so good, but I just love doing them, it's such fun.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      You are such a creative person! Such a pleasure to see what you can show us next!

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Good morning, Blossom!

      Many thanks for this exquisite presentation! The others comments here express my thoughts as well. My best wishes for a happy Easter and lovely Spring.

      Cat :)

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      Oh so interesting Blossom 'I loved this one and vote up without a doubt. Have a great day.


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Amazing , i really appreciate your great aesthatic sense & your way of teaching are an inspiration to me and many others here...Thankyou so much BlossomSB for sharing your art with us!!

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 

      6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Your art is exquistive, Blossom, and I especially love the pink in the last painting. I paint with oils on canvas, as I love the intensity of the color and the challenge of creating great detailed delicacy with oils. Since I am self taught, each new painting brings new insight. An acquaintance of mine who loves art, upon seeing my paintings, remarked that my oils looked like watercolors. Initially, I didn't know whether that was a compliment or not, but he explained he was referring to the delicacy of the painting as opposed to a heavier handed look sometimes seen in oils. You have inspired me to try painting plum blossums with oil paints! Thank you for the detailed help you share in this gorgeous hub, and especially your magnificent artwork, Blossom.

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image


      6 years ago from Windsor, Connecticut

      Plum blossoms are so pretty! I want to try this sometime. Thanks for sharing this with us, it's beautiful.

    • WillStarr profile image


      6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Wow! Not many artists can tell others how to perform their magic!

    • dghbrh profile image


      6 years ago from ...... a place beyond now and beyond here !!!

      So beautifully presented and an informative hub. Thanks for sharing. I am sharing it too. Votes up way.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      6 years ago from Taos, NM

      Beautiful, just beautiful. Quite a nice tutorial - I never knew how they went about painting these. I think even I could do this and I'm not that wonderful of a drawer. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Voted up and shared!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 years ago from The Caribbean

      Seems miraculous. Thanks for sharing your talent of creativity.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      6 years ago from Shelton

      what informative, entertaining, educational.. all wrapped up to make this a very good hub Blossoms :)

    • profile image

      Jean Valerie Kotzur nee Stoneman 

      6 years ago from Germany

      This is a really beautiful hub. I have a plum tree in my garden, just outside my bedroom window which is already over forty years old. It is just as you said, gnarled, partly green with moss and has never been cut back properly. The flowers in Spring are so very beautiful and when the sun shines through the branches it is like looking through lace.

      The chinese have had a painting tradition for as long as we are able to go back in history. I love their technique, but I also love our (the western world) approach to this media. Absolutely beautful, thankyou.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Fascinating and beautiful. Thank you for this great hub.


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