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 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
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: