Chinese Painting: A Medium for Expression

Calligraphy and painting were two of the most appreciated art forms in ancient China. Calligraphy was thought to be the highest and purest form of painting. The history of painting in China dates back to the 2nd century BCE. In the earliest times, painting and writing were done on silk until paper was later invented during the 1st century CE.

The most popularly known form of Chinese painting is “Water-ink” painting, where water-ink is the medium. Some of the basic things required for the Chinese painting include: paper, brush, ink or ink stick, ink stone, and color.

  • Brush: The Chinese brush is a necessary element for Chinese painting. The brush should be strong and flexible. Two types of brushes are used. The softer brush is made from white sheep hair. This brush should be wet first, and then dried to prevent curling. The second one is made from fox or deer sable fibers, which are very resilient, and tend to paint better. The way the brush is used depends on the different attributes of brush strokes one wants to achieve, such as weight, lightness, gracefulness, ruggedness, tenacity, and fullness. Different types of shades are used to express space, texture, or depth.
  • Ink Stick: There are three types of Ink Stick: resin soot, lacquer soot, and tung-oil soot. Of the three, tung-oil soot is the most commonly used. Otherwise, Chinese ink is ideal if ink stick or ink stone are unavailable.
  • Paper: The most commonly used paper is Xuan paper, which is made of sandalwood bark. This is highly absorbent, so the color or ink diffuses the moment the brush stroke is laid. The second most popular is Mian paper.
  • Color: The earliest Chinese paintings employed Mo, a type of natural ink, to produce monochromatic representations of nature or day-to-day life. Made of pine soot, mo is diluted with water to obtain different shades for expressing desired layers or color in a painting.

Chinese painting is called shui-mo-hua. Shui-mo is the mix of shui (water) and mo. There are two types of Chinese painting. They are: (1) gong-bi or meticulous style, and (2) xie-yi or freehand style. The latter is the most popular, not only because the objects are drawn with just a few strokes, but also because shapes and sprites are drawn by simple curves and natural ink. Many ancient poets and scholars used xie-yi paintings to express their spiritual angst.


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