Posts Tagged ‘Chinese Brush Painting’


Sunday Links And A Very Cool Camera


Again Firefox failed to save a session and my original cache of links disappeared. Luckily, I was able to remember enough to warrant a post…

Cool camera!



Goodbye Spock Plus A Few Sunday Links


Such a week, but there were some bright spots…


A Few Links Plus A Giveaway


Pens, inks and other treats…


A New Batch Of Links


A bit of this and a bit of that…

St. Patrick’s Day is only a week away. Okay, I couldn’t pick just one, so green ink is in two pens on my desk. It was hard to choose, but J. Herbin Lierre Sauvage and Diamine Emerald won and I am thoroughly enjoying both.


Watercolors for Chinese Brush Painting


When painting in the Chinese style, there is no substitute for the watercolors that come from China. Add to that the way the brush is used and its supple grasp of paint and those color dishes become a necessity rather than a luxury.

Flaming Mum

Flaming Mum

If you want to purchase the real deal, my foundation set used for the painting above came from Nan Rae as have most of my Chinese brushes and other supplies. There are other stacked, porcelain dish sets available but I prefer Nan’s selection. Her basic colors include Chinese rattan (chunk) yellow*, vermillion, rouge red, burnt sienna, indigo, and neutral tint. Somewhere along the line during a painting class, Nan put a squirt of burnt umber next to my burnt sienna. It is handy for trees but I use it for little else so it falls in the nonessential category.

The swatches below are either pure color or mixes from the original six paints with the exception of the burnt umber.

Chinese Watercolors

Chinese Watercolors

vermillion, burnt sienna, burnt umber, diluted rattan yellow, rattan yellow
red diluted to pink, rouge red, indigo, neutral tint, neutral tint diluted to gray
three mixes of yellow and indigo to create green, one mix of yellow and green to create blue-green, and lastly rouge red mixed with indigo to create purple

If you just want to dabble at it and already own Western watercolors, there are some passable substitutes. Cadmium yellow will do for Chinese Yellow. Vermillion really has no peer but Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet can be used, though it is more red than Chinese vermillion. For rouge red, Daniel Smith Permanent Alizarin Crimson or Perylene Scarlet are fine. Daniel Smith Burnt Sienna works well for the Chinese version. Neutral Tint from Winsor & Newton or Daniel Smith Payne’s Gray have the slightly bluish look of the neutral tint in Nan’s set. Finally, W&N indigo is the exact paint in my dish and it makes gorgeous greens. I am not as enthused by the indigo watercolor from other companies. They are too gray or black and less suitable for skies. In addition they lack the luminosity of the W&N version.

All of the tube paints can be purchased from Daniel Smith but that will cost more than a set of the Chinese colors. In addition to containing the paint, the porcelain dishes have a certain elegance, practicality and can easily be refilled. Another advantage is that they accommodate huge brushes, an invitation to paint large and loose strokes.

The backbone of Chinese painting is ink whether full strength or diluted but color enlivens any subject. It is amazing how much can be accomplished with so few colors especially when those colors work in close harmony. This simple, six color palette is all that is needed.

*Chinese chunk yellow is slightly toxic. Follow package directions especially if you are putting it in your own watercolor dish. A few minutes before you paint, dampen a section of it and let the water soak in before loading your brush to paint. Otherwise, the color will be thin and lacking in saturation.


Ink For Chinese Brush And Sumi-e Painting


A comment from Yuebing about the ink in my Stillman & Birn Sketchbook review prompted me to do a little research on the brand and where to order it. Whether for Sumi-e or Chinese brush painting, any bottled ink of this type will do though professional quality is best. Pinching pennies on student grade might be short-sighted since you never know when a masterpiece might flow from your brush.

Chinese Brush Painting Tools

Chinese Brush Painting Tools

Though it was sold to me for a Japanese calligraphy class, Yi-te Ke is a Chinese ink. It took a while to locate on the web, but I finally found it at Blue Heron. Yi-te Ke ink has been made in Beijing for over 140 years and is good enough for professional grade work. From the consistency to the musky fragrance, this ink makes me happy just to pick up a brush. However, the scent might be too strong if you are sensitive to such things. If not, it is an excellent ink for brush painting and calligraphy and a real pleasure to use.

My second favorite bottled ink for brush painting is Best Bottle. It is also suitable for professional grade work and more widely available in the U.S. The scent is milder and performance is excellent.

Brush painting ink is not for use in a fountain pen though some artists have used it with an aqua brush. My experience is limited to natural bristle brushes but even with that there is a caveat. The ink tends to work its way into the tops of the bristles and upward into the ferrule. Sometimes the ink will then work its way out at inconvenient times and into pale colored washes. To avoid this I keep a few brushes dedicated for use with brush painting ink and have a different set for work with color.

In theory Japanese ink is cool blue-black but it looks densely black to me. Chinese ink is a slightly warmer brown-black with a softer, more earthy appearance. Don’t be concerned if the inks appear identical. The difference is subtle.

For some artists, a more significant characteristic is whether or not the ink can be reconstituted. If it dries on the palette before being used up, some inks like Yi-te Ke can be re-wetted producing gradations of gray. Like most brush painting inks, Best Bottle cannot. Wasting ink can be avoided by keeping the amount in your dish minimized and by immediately using any leftovers for another project. A small painting or doodle on a scrap of paper can be attached to a journal page, a greeting card, or turned into a bookmark. The ink can also be used to decorate blank stationery depending on the thickness and quality of the paper. It need never go to waste. Just be creative!

There is nothing that compares to using rich ink with a supple brush on high quality paper but that’s the painter in me talking. As a writer, using a fountain pen with the right ink and paper can produce a comparable experience. Both are fabulous fun.

Black Fantail

Black Fantail


Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks, Part 2


Stillman & Birn paper is great for watercolor but others have ably reviewed it for that use. Looking for a different slant to evaluating the journal, I decided to find out if it would stand up to the dense, black ink used for Asian calligraphy and painting.

Finding a simple way to paint in the Chinese style without the need for lots of space for large sheets and paraphernalia has long been on my list of things to do. A journal with paper that works decently with Asian ink would make painting easier as well as more fun. So over the weekend, I put aside writing and pulled out a small bottle of Japanese ink of the sort made for painting, a few small Chinese brushes, a Japanese flat dish suitable for swirling a brush in ink, a jar of water, and the Alpha Series Sketchbook.

Chinese Brush Painting Tools

Chinese Brush Painting Tools with a Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook

First a little practice in the Epsilon Series Sketchbook and then it was time to put the Alpha Series paper to the test.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon Sketchbook brush and ink sample

Stillman & Birn Epsilon Sketchbook Chinese brush and ink sample

The paper size is small at 5.5 x 8.5″ compared to my previous attempts at Chinese brush painting but that is what makes the journal fit so well at my desk. The only drawback to the small size is that my seals have imprints that overwhelm the limited space. Seal placement is usually an afterthought for me but in future will need to be incorporated in the composition layout to fit in a small Sketchbook painting.

Chinese Seal  "Gifted Brush"

Chinese Seal “Gifted Brush”

Chinese Seal "Let the idea carry you"

Chinese Seal “Let the idea carry you”

Properly opened the book will lay flat enough to use facing pages as a single surface albeit with a fold line through the center. That means a painting can be as large as 8.5 x 11″ which will do for most subjects when the smaller size won’t do.

Chinese Brush Painting in Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook

Chinese Brush Painting in Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook

Paper for Chinese brush painting can be divided into two broad categories, one for floral painting and the other for landscapes. The fiber content and properties are different for each. Alpha Series paper resembles neither because it is designed for Western-style painting but it still provides a satisfactory surface for brush painting. It is thick, absorbent, and soaks up ink quickly. Dry-brush strokes are easy to achieve and incredibly fine details can be nothing short of amazing.

Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook Trunk Detail

Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook Trunk Detail

Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook Rock Detail

Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook Rock Detail

Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook Grass Detail

Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook Grass Detail

Calligraphy as well as subjects like orchids and plums will require a brush well-loaded to achieve supple lines. Diluted ink will appear gray but such a toned down look will have lots of subtle applications.

Alpha paper can take several layers of ink without buckling.  It had some very pale show-through on the reverse but no bleed-through even with thick ink.

My friend, artist Nan Rae, might be amused at the apostasy of using a journal, but I did pick up a brush and put ink to paper. That is to the good even if it won’t produce paintings to hang. When the journal is full, it will be like having my own book of paintings and won’t that be something unique to pass down to my children.

This foray into brush painting with its fragrant ink and happy little brushes will draw me back again and again. I know we are going to spend many hours together over the next few months making dozens of small paintings. My large brushes are jealous but patient. Someday they will get a turn, too.

For those keeping track, the brushes are a Happy Dot, Best Detail, Small Mountain Horse, and a Super Fine brush.

See also…

Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks, Part 1

Less Herger shows what an Alpha can do here and here.

Vivien Blackburn used gouache and water-soluble crayon in her Alpha.

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