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.


  • 9x12 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.

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