How to learn Chinese painting

Chinese painting is one of the major painting categories in the world. The unique features include but not limited to: using the brush, rice paper, ink and ink stone  as its major tools; its symbolic meaning behind surface; its almost black and white colour system; its unique expression represented by the way artists use brush and ink,  etc. The article is not intended to illustrate in detail the history and aesthetic meaning about Chinese painting, but to give guidelines about how to start learning Chinese painting for those who have interest in it.

Step 1: Imitation

Imitation is a major part of Chinese painting. While some people think it as a copy. Chinese thought it as a shortcut for learning the way precedent painting masters express some themes. Students are asked to imitation the different styles of masters. One example is Manual of Mustard Seed Garden. By practising how to draw landscape elements, students grasp the basic way of Chinese painting expression. At this stage students are not required to have their own artist style but to learn the scheme of Chinese painting. Some people might think that imitation as a way causing stereotype while it is based on the belief that immitating is a first step towards creating.

Step 2: Practising brush controlling 

Just like we could not expect artist to create oil painting without knowing how pigment and bristle brushes work, Chinese painting student have to learn the characteristics of brush, ink and rice paper. There are many types of rice paper, brushes and ink, which leads to countless combination of expression with each one of unique taste and meaning. It is highly recommended that students experiment with different material and its special expressive potential. For example: how to make full use of the characteristics of rice paper

One way of helping students controlling their brushes is to practising calligraph. There is a famous saying that calligraph and painting has the same origin. Thus, artist individual emotion, personality and views of life can be demonstrated by controlling of brush.

Step 3: Have knowledge in Chinese aesthetic history

Learning Chinese painting should not be limited to learning on superficial level. It is a process of appreciating Chinese unique views of world and their life style. How ancient scholar painters express their emotions through brush and ink? Why black and white are two dominating colours in Chinese painting? Why artists use a large blank area as a special composition in Chinese painting? By practising Chinse painting, students learn more about Chinese philosophy and history.

Step 4: Develop your own style

Knowing that Chinese is not only ancient but also in development demands students learning by thinking, practising and developing their own styles. At this stage, students are encouraged to have a trip to get inspiration for art creation. Some other good practices include attending exhibitions, reading an interesting book, revisiting the themes favoured by Chinese painting masters, innovating old scheme of Chinese painting composition. Some Chinese painters have been exploring their unique styles

To summarize, start off your Chinese painting learning by the guideline above now, and you will be enjoying  this wonderful cultural and spiritual journey!