Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chinese Brush Painting - How to Paint Bamboo

Chinese brush painting is one of the Three Perfections, along with calligraphy and poetry. Although we will not be perfecting these crafts, we will be exploring them. 

In Chinese brush painting, the artist uses brushstrokes developed in the practice of calligraphy. The medium is ink, which can be diluted to create various tones. And most often, brush painting is done on silk or rice paper. 

The subject is most often nature: landscapes, plants, and animals. Paintings of plants and animals are filled with symbolism, and landscapes represent the grandeur of nature and our small role as people within it. 

The most important principle in Chinese brush painting is not to create a realistic likeness of the subject, but to capture its spirit and its Chi, its life energy. 

How do you tune it with the spirit of what you want to paint? Can you study the subject in its natural environment, truly observe it. Imagine what it feels like to be that subject, to be relating to the other elements of nature around you. 

Bamboo is one of The Four Gentlemen, along with the orchid, the plum blossom, and chrysanthemum. These four plants represent the four seasons, as well as the virtues of a gentleman. Bamboo is also one of the Three Friends of Winter, along with pine and plum blossoms, because they do not wither over the winter, and together they represent perseverance, integrity, and modesty. 

To see our process and finished paintings of the other three gentlemen, find our plum blossoms here, orchids here, and chrysanthemums here.

We are going to start off by learning how to paint the Four Gentlemen, starting with bamboo. Bamboo represents the summer, and the virtues of strength combined flexibility. Bamboo represents the gentleman (gentleperson, in our case) who bends, but does not break in the face of challenging situations. 

In the Winter they endure ice and snow,
In the deepest night, they alarm dreaming souls.
                                - Chen Chun (1483-1544)

Starting with bamboo is the perfect way to start learning brush painting, since it helps get a feel for the various strokes, starting with the most basic ones. Pea was introduced to this in her grade 7 art class, and so we let her instruct us. It had been some time since she had done it, so there was a lot of practicing for everyone. Just like when we first tried Chinese calligraphy, it was soon obvious that what seems simple is not. You will need a lot of practice papers to get a feel for the brush and how to work it, and lots of patience to let yourself learn from your mistakes.

Pea and Elle getting the hang of it after much practice

How to Paint Bamboo

Start with your brush, black ink, water, paper, and a felt pad for underneath, if you have it. 

Start with the stalk. Pea started hers in the corner, sweeping it up slightly diagonally. Lightly touch the brush to the paper and press down to form a slightly oval shape.

Without lifting the brush, lighten the pressure, and lift the ink up in the direction you want to paint your stalk.

When you reach the length of the section that you want, press down again slightly with your brush to create that oval like shape.

Lift the brush, and do the same steps for next section of your bamboo. Pea's bamboo has three sections.

That lovely two tone? A complete fluke :) There is a way to load your brush for that effect, but we haven't learned it yet. 

Paint some leaf stems

 Using the tip of your brush, apply light pressure and pull away from yourself

End with a light flick, lifting off the paper

Painting the leaves

 Using the tip of your brush, add slight pressure for the tip of the leaf

 Painting away from the stem, in the direction of the leaf growth, apply more pressure with your brush to create width, and lift immediately, to taper out to a point.

Give your bamboo lots of leaves.


We looked through many books about Chinese brush painting, but there are two we kept coming back to, using for instruction or inspiration. 

Disclosure: the following are affiliate links

Chinese Brush Painting: A Hands-On Introduction to the Traditional Art by Caroline Self
This was by far the most instructive book for children (or in my case, beginners) that we came across. Should we decide to delve deeper, and truly practice brush painting, this is the book we will use. It discusses briefly the history, principles and methodology of brush paintings, and includes 35 activities with clear instructions. 

The Chinese Brush Painting Bible: Over 200 Motifs with Step by Step Illustrated Instructions (Artist's Bibles) by Jane Dwight
Since we weren't perfecting brush painting, this book was great for inspiration and basic ideas of how to paint the images. This book is more useful for someone who already knows the basics, or in our case, don't take them too seriously. It contains over 200 motifs with great tips for including color. 
Learn more about bamboo with us: Learn about its cultural significance in China and watch its amazing growth over just 24 hours; increase your luck with Lucky bamboo; and listen to, and make a replica of a traditional bamboo flute, the Dizi.

You can find more cultural and historical activities at the following linkups:
You can find more creative and kid friendly activities at the following linkups:


  1. Those bamboo pictures are beautiful. We tried brush painting when we were studying medieval Japan, and found it a lot harder than it looks! I'm bookmarking this fab tutorial for next time we dabble! Lucinda

    1. Thanks Lucinda. It really is harder than it looks, and bamboo is the easiest! It was a good think Pea had been properly instructed by an actual art teacher. Should be interesting to see how the rest goes.

  2. I don't know if you'll get this but....
    These are beautiful! We were meant to learn brush art, and I even have a book teaching it, but we ran out of steam at the end. I might try to squeeze it in this summer. Your girls did a fab job!

    1. Got it :)
      And thanks! I'll let the girls know you said so. I think you just might be a little bit busy this summer for an extra art project ;)

  3. You did a great job! We tried this when studying China and found it extremely difficult.

    1. Thanks, they really did! And it was difficult - the rest of the four gentleman are going to be quite the challenge for the girls, being the perfectionists they are.

  4. Thank you for linking up that the Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #5!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for hosting the blog hop!

  5. How beautiful. We have played around with brush painting, but our results were not quite as beautiful as yours.

    1. Thank you! The girls are quite artistic, but it certainly takes patience and practice!

  6. These are gorgeous! Thank you for such a detailed tutorial, and thanks for sharing at the Culture Swapper!

    1. Thanks! And thanks for hosting the culture swapper :)


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