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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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Chinese Brush Painting: Painting Chrysanthemum {With Book Recommendations}

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 hereFor a step by step tutorial to paint bamboo, read this post (further down the page). To see our process and finished plum blossoms, read this post, and likewise orchids, read this post

Black & White Chrysanthemum

In the Chinese culture, the chrysanthemum represents longevity and long life. As one of the four gentlemen, it symbolizes the virtue of withstanding all adversities because it blooms in the autumn, foretelling the winter. 

"If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow chrysanthemums" 
- Chinese proverb

How to Paint Chrysanthemums

As with our other brush painting subjects, the key is to practice, and to take it all in stride. Enjoy the process. And when that doesn't work, scribble a big black inky mess. It had been some time since our last painting, so we needed to get a feel for the brush and the press and release again.

Elle decided to forego the chrysanthemum and focus on painting a horse, her zodiac sign, in honor of the Year of the Horse. Inspiration for the horse painting found here.
Step 1: Load your brush in ink. For color, we loaded our brush in pink, then dipped the very tip in dark blue. Holding your brush upright, lightly press the tip to create a few spots, which is the center of your chrysanthemum.

Step 2: Using press and release, start by making some shorter petals around the center. Start on the wider, outer edge of the petal, making your way as you quickly release into the center towards your spots. It's kind of like making a check mark. Do this all the way around, but reverse the direction of your "check marks" on either side: that is, the petals on the left should curve to the left, and the ones on the right should curve to the right. (see image for step 3)

Step 3: Make larger, longer petals on the outer edge, trying to get the long end coming in towards the center. Continue around flower.

Step 4: Play with it, adding extra petals here, less there. Don't you love such specific instructions :) For example, in the flower below, the outer petals at the top are much shorter than the outer petals at the bottom.

As for adding stems and leaves, we just had fun with it. 

And that brings us to the end of our Chinese brush painting. Pea has been more partial to this art form then Elle, but I think that reflects both their styles. Pea is known to take a lot of extra time when doing artwork, getting to know the technique, creating less but absorbed in the pieces she does. Elle is a prolific sketcher, whipping through her masterpieces - drawing has always come naturally to her and the need for extra practice was frustrating to her. The age difference was likely a factor as well. If you aren't a perfectionist, and enjoy being in the process, Chinese brush painting is a wonderful new art form.  

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:


  1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I love this.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you, I love it too!!
    Honestly you are showing us just how much we missed out on in our study. We might just have to go for a quick revisit....

    1. There is just sooo much to explore with the Chinese culture (I may have said that before :) there is only so much that can be done!


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