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Chinese Brush Painting for Kids

two examples of a Chinese Brush Painting project for kids

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 the perfection of technique were more important and more highly valued than self-expression. Chinese Brush Painting uses simple strokes of a paintbrush to capture a single object or an entire scene.

Teach Chinese Brush Painting to kids in grades 6 & up

Just follow these simple instructions. Try it yourself with a basic watercolor set and some heavyweight construction paper. It’s relaxing and fun!

Show examples (from books or a google search) and share the following background information before 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 artist’s materials:

1. Brushes
2. Ink stick
3. Inkstone
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.

You will need:


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! Any white space that appears on your bamboo stalks is actually desirable, so resist the urge to paint back over it!

2. Add the nodes next

Make the nodes darker, and with a slight curve.

3. Add the branches

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

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

5. Add a title

Title your painting vertically, in the white space to the right. Choose a word that has meaning for you. Use the word “LOVE” for Valentine’s Day, or “JOY” or “HAPPY” to mark a celebration. For a New Year’s twist kids could make this their “One Word” for the year, and their painting could hang on the wall as a reminder!

6. Add your initials

This is called your “chop“. Trace around a circle or square template at the bottom of your title (or just to the lower left of it) in red. Write your initials inside.

7. Class discussion

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

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

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

  3. 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.

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

  5. This is great thank you! I have taught a similar lesson but you have simplified this to make it easy for all students. Thanks again!