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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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chinese Brush Painting: Orchids

Chinese brush painting is one of the Three Perfections (along with calligraphy and poetry). We are exploring (rather than perfecting) brush painting by painting the Four Gentlemen: bamboo, plum blossoms, orchids and chrysanthemums. These four plants are most often used for teaching the fundamental skills of Chinese brush painting. 

To learn more about Chinese brush painting read our post here. For a step by step tutorial to paint bamboo, read this post (further down the page). You can see our process and finished plum blossoms here, and chrysanthemums here.

Confucius, one of the most influential Chinese philosophers, compared being virtuous to an orchid. Therefore, orchids are often painted to evoke the Confucian qualities of a cultured gentleman: humility, integrity and refinement. 

“An orchid in a deep forest sends out its fragrance even if no one is around to appreciate it. Likewise, men of noble character hold firm to their high principles, undeterred by poverty.”
- Confucius (551-479 BCE)
Our "method" is to look at examples, and practice on lots of practice sheets. Lots. The biggest hurdle is getting a feel for the brush, and learning when to press and release.

The first step was to practice the leaves. With undiluted ink, we practiced these long strokes. Swing the arm upward, press the brush for thicker lines, and lift for thinner lines (giving the effect of the leaf twisting), and lift to taper the end. Paint leaves of different lengths, going in different directions for the final piece.

Then we practiced the flowers: orchid flowers have two to three petals, with a stamen, in varying shades. To get the lighter shade, dilute the ink - and practice to get the tone you like. To paint the petal, load the brush with the medium ink, tap off excess, then dip the tip only into dark ink, and tap of excess. This makes a petal with a darker tip. Then practice making petals painting from the outer edge inward. 

Elle's beautiful orchid
For the composition, use an odd number of leaves, such as 5 or 7, allowing for space for an odd number of flowers. Of course, in our case, the flowers were painted at the top - lots of space there! 

Pea's lovely orchid
She's a bit of a natural, not needing nearly as much practice as Elle and I.


We looked through many books about Chinese brush painting over the year, 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. 

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:
Entertaining & Educational

Highhill Homeschool


  1. I remember how difficult this was when we tried it. (Pleasing, though.) I wish I'd had the benefit of this post back then! I agree, both girls' pictures are beautiful.

    1. Thank you! The petals especially were tricky - funny how simple it looks until you try!

  2. Lovely! I particularly like the signature seal. As always, very cool!

    1. Thank you Claire! Getting as much use as we can of those chops :)

  3. This technique is so much harder than it looks. Your paintings came out beautiful.

  4. These are gorgeous! I'm sure it must take a lot of practice to get paintings like this! Thanks for sharing at the Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop!


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