Chinese Brush Painting

Chinese Brush Painting dates back to 4000 BC, with techniques being handed down from master to student. In contrast to what most of us are taught about art today, copying and perfection of technique was more important and more highly valued than self-expression. Chinese Brush Painting uses simple strokes of a paint brush to capture a single object or an entire scene.

Show examples and share this background information before you start your painting….

The “Six Principles” form the framework for Chinese Brush Painting:
1. The artist’s state of mind is mirrored in each brushstroke.
2. Good brush technique is essential and must capture the “life energy” of the subject.
3. Study your subject and avoid unnecessary brush strokes.
4. Colors used do not have to be the same as the subject but should enhance it instead.
5. Composition = 1/3 form, 2/3 space. Strive for simplicity and avoid symmetry.
6. Study and copy the work of the masters.

The “Four Treasures” are the artists materials:
1. Brushes
2. Ink stick
3. Ink stone
4. Paper

The subject was always nature:
Bamboo, flowers, birds, fish, or landscapes…. If a human element was added, it would be simple and not dominate the scene.


  • 9×12 white construction paper
  • #10 watercolor brush (or bamboo brush)
  • Prang OVL8 watercolor set (or ink stone and ink stick)
  • Red marker (fine point) and small circle or square template

1. Begin with the bamboo. With your paper in the vertical position, use the side of your brush to paint 3 bamboo stems on the left side of your paper, working from bottom to top, leaving a space between each bamboo section. Stagger the height of the spaces – don’t line them up!

2. Add the nodes, darker and with a slight curve.

3. Add branches from the nodes with an upward stroke. (Add only two branches per node, alternating from the left to right sides of the nodes. Or, you may add “bunches” of branches… but you need to choose one style or the other, don’t mix them both together!)

4. Add leaves (in sets of 2 or 3 leaves per branch) using a downward tapering stroke. Let them overlap!

5. Title your painting vertically.

6. Add your initials (this is called your “chop”) at the bottom of your title (or just to the lower left of it) in red, using a circle or square template.

Chinese Brush Paintings by some of my 6th grade students…. they each chose a “fruit of the spirit” (Galations 5:22) as the title for their painting. They also added some tall grass and flowers in the front for a little color!

After students have completed their paintings, encourage them to discuss the differences between copying to perfect your technique vs. self-expression. Ask your students which method they prefer and why…. their answers may surprise you!

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6 Responses to Chinese Brush Painting

  1. Janice Skivington December 30, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    This lesson is a great idea, I want to use it in my classes. I like the way that you have explained this. Perhaps when you have examples from your students-after you teach this lesson- you could post them, please?

  2. Eleanor Vander Meulen December 30, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    love it! 'my parents' always enjoy asian inspired art (maybe because it looks so,…well…so artistic!

  3. Nancie Kay December 30, 2010 at 6:43 pm #

    Thank you for your detailed background info and directions – definitely a 'keeper'.

  4. TeachKidsArt December 31, 2010 at 12:12 am #

    Good idea, Janice! I wish I had better pictures to show you… the ones I have are out of focus, but I'll add them at the bottom of the post so you can see how the students did.

  5. sleepyhead designs studio January 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    What a great lesson! Loved all the info too-great for home schoolers.

  6. Adam Trowbridge January 5, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    I love how you did this with the fruit of the spirit! That is a perfect idea. They look great.