Chinese Painting

Categories: ArtPainting

Chinese Painting is one of the oldest continuous artistic traditions in the world, it is also known in Chinese as Guohua. Traditional painting involves essentially the same techniques as calligraphy which is done with a brush dipped in black or colored ink. Compared with the western style of painting, oils are not used in Chinese Painting. Chinese paintings were usually painted on paper or silk; Traditional painting can also be done on album sheets, walls, folding screens, and other media. Chinese painting is also known as one of the Four Art in China.

The Four Arts of the Chinese scholar were the four things that required for Chinese scholar gentleman, and the four arts are Qin, Qi, Shu and Hua. Qin is Chinese stringed instrument, Qi is Chinese Chess, Shu is calligraphy and Hua is Chinese painting. So, in the old time, the people who can do The Four Arts were seen as a very talent person. It has been a long time of developing for Chinese painting and people are still practicing the techniques right now in China.

People like Chinese painting because there is always a soul in each painting.

People can really feel the spirit and get inspired by a Chinese painting because they can see through the painting and get the painter’s feeling. And all of the things on Chinese painting are finished by using simple tools. In Chinese paintings, as in calligraphy, artists usually grind ink stick over an ink stone to obtain black ink, but prepared inks are also available.

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Most ink sticks are made of either pine or oil soot combined with animal glue. An artist puts a few drops of water on an ink stone and grinds the ink stick in a circular motion until a smooth, black ink of the desired concentration is made.

Prepared inks are usually of much lower quality. Ink sticks themselves are sometimes ornately decorated with landscapes or flowers in bas-relief and some are highlighted with gold. Ink wash painting brushes are similar to the brushes used for calligraphy and are traditionally made from bamboo with goat, horse, sheep, rabbit, marten, deer, and wolf hair. The brush hairs are tapered to a fine point, a feature vital to the style of wash paintings. Different brushes have different qualities. A small wolf-hair brush that is tapered to a fine point can deliver an even thin line of ink.

A large wool brush can hold a large volume of water and ink. When the big cloud brush rains down upon the paper, it delivers a graded swath of ink encompassing myriad shades of gray to black. Once a stroke is painted, it cannot be changed or erased. This makes ink and washes painting a technically demanding art-form requiring great skill, concentration, and years of training. There are two main techniques in Chinese painting; the first one is the Meticulous Brush Craftsmanship which is also called Gongbi in Chinese. The second technique is Ink and Wash Painting which is called Shuimo Hua or Xieyi in Chinese.

In Clunas’ book, Gongbi is called as the academy painting; and Shuinohua is also called scholarly painting. There are lots of differences between these two kinds of technique and they were developed in different dynasty in China. Gongbi, which is the “meticulous brush craftsmanship” or called the academy painting, detailed brushstroke that delimits details very precisely. The Gongbi style appeared approximately 2000 years ago during the Han Dynasty. These paintings became very popular between the Tang and Song Dynasties.

Since Gongbi requires drawing with fine lines first to represent the likenesses of the objects, and then adds washes of ink and color layer by layer, and as to approach the perfection of fine art. It is often highly colored and usually depicts figural or narrative subjects. We can clearly see the lines of the objects and with beautiful colors on. Since the Gongbi style painting are very detailed and usually painted on silk, and silk was very luxurious in the old time; so only the wealthy could afford such artists to do the Gongbi style.

As an example, the painting on page 178 of the text book named “Golden Valley Garden” is a Gongbi style painting which was done on silk. This art has a very high value and only the price of using silk could buy many large houses at that time in China. Because of Gongbi painting’s high value, they were mostly collected by the royal families in China at that time. Also, this style of painting was mostly practiced by artists working for the court or in the independent workshops. The style or object of Gongbi paintings were actually always changing along with the change of the emperor.

Because of the high price of using silk, Gongbi painting were usually painted for the needs of court; and the ruler of court is the emperor. So the Gongbi paintings were always serve for taste of the emperor. As an example, the hand scroll which is showing the “South Tour” of the Kangxi emperor shows the “golden age” of Qing dynasty. There is one detail that we would notice when viewing the painting; the showing of Kangxi emperor on a slightly larger scale than everyone else on the painting, in order to show the greatness and the unique of the emperor.

As another example, the hand scroll on silk named “Ladies Wearing Flowers in their Hair” shows the beautiful ladies in court; and the reason these are all fat ladies is that the emperor of Tang dynasty preferred plump ladies. Ink and wash painting/ brush painting, in Chinese called Shui Mo Hua or Xieyi. Ink wash painting developed in China during the Tang Dynasty and further developed into a more polished style during the Song Dynasty. This kind of painting uses only ink and usually painted on the paper, and the adding of water is the main point to do this painting.

Ink and wash painting basically use ink and without much other colors. The shadings make up the object on the paper, and even though there is just one color, but the viewer can still get a strong feeling from the shadings. In the hand of a master, a single stroke can produce variations in tonality, from deep black to silvery gray. The points of scholar painting are about developing varying shades in and controlling the use of ink, and the most important is to put personal understanding of the object. In Clunas’ book, Shui Mo Hua is also called as the scholarly painting.

Against with the Gongbi painting (or Academy painting), Shui Mo hua is more likely to express personal feeling or to record life. As an example, the painting on page 193 of Clunas’ book called “Bamboo” was made by Zheng Xie dated 1759. When I see the painting of bamboos, I always think more about the personality of the artist since bamboos have the significant of “Qinggao” in Chinese Culture. So the people who practiced paint bamboos were mostly understand as the people who paying more attention on cultivation.

The artist is giving the message about his own personality by showing his bamboos to viewers. For the traditional Chinese painting, the goal for a painting is not only the outer appearance of a subject but also the inner essence . The inner essence including the energy you have in body, the life experience and the spirit. In Chinese painting, the more inspiration from the painting, the higher quality it is. A very good example is painting horses; we can find lots of project about running horses in Chinese paintings.

In the painting of running horses, people can always feel energy from these running wild horses. The power of horses is all coming out from the shades that on the paper. As I just mentioned above, Chinese paintings especially most of Xinyi paintings were made to record or to express; and Shu (calligraphy) is part of the four arts, so it is really common to have a poem on the side of Chinese painting to record painter’s feel or just describing the artwork. The poem on the side of painting can be also called Luokuan in Chinese, which is also a very important part of Chinese painting.

People could figure who the painter is, or understand the painting better by looking at the Luokuan. Along with the time changing, there are lots of people are still love to learn about Chinese painting. But more of young people prefer western style painting for some reason. I feel that Chinese people should not forget this art style since there are lots of amazing things about Chinese painting. Actually, Chinese painting has long inspired modern artists in the West. American artist and educator Arthur Wesley Dow wrote this about Chinese painting: “The painter … ut upon the paper the fewest possible lines and tones; just enough to cause form, texture and effect to be felt. Every brush-touch must be full-charged with meaning, and useless detail eliminated. Put together all the good points in such a method, and you have the qualities of the highest art”. He also advocated practicing with East Asian brushes and ink to develop aesthetic acuity with line and shading. There should be more people practicing Chinese art and in order to get inspired from it.

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Chinese Painting. (2016, Sep 28). Retrieved from

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