Chinese Painting Art Supplies

Elderly man painting traditional Chinese calligraphy.
Billy Hustace / Getty Images

The art supplies used in Chinese painting are fundamental to the style and are known as the Four Treasures: brush, paper, ink, and ink stone. You can start exploring Chinese painting with watercolor brushes and paints if you already have these, but it's worth also exploring the different Chinese painting brushes available and the results painting with ink gives.

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Close up chinese writing.
Credit: Grant Faint

Three types of brushes are used in Chinese painting:

  1. Round brushes with a sharp tip made from stiff hair such as deer or ox. The brush hairs retain a bounce or spring when wet. A decent brush will regain its sharp tip when you decrease the pressure on the brush, enabling you to vary the width of a single brushstroke by increasing or
  2. Round brushes with a sharp tip made from soft hair such as goat or rabbit. The brush becomes floppy when wet and the hairs don't bounce, so when it loses its shape as you apply it to the paper, giving you less control over the brushmark.
  3. Hake brushes: wide, flat brushes with short hair.
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Hand holding writing brush and inking
Leren Lu/Getty Images

Traditionally the ink used for Chinese painting was in the form of a dried, rectangular stick of ink. To use it, you add some water to an ink stone, then rub or grind the ink stick against the stone to "dissolve" some of it, producing the ink. These days, liquid ink is also used as it's convenient. If the ink from a bottle is too thin, leave it to dry a little and it'll thicken up. The quality of the ink is more important than the form you buy it in.
Watercolor paints and calligraphy inks can also be used, but tend to run more when used on wet paper. Traditional Chinese inks have gum in them to counter this.

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An Ink Stone

Close-Up Of Calligraphy Ink Stone On Table
Marco Balaz / EyeEm

If you're using an ink stick, you'll need a suitable container for turning it into liquid ink. Traditionally this is an ink stone made from slate, but a small ceramic bowl or even a plastic one will also work. Use only a small quantity of ink at a time so you don't waste any and don't let it dry in the ink stone or you'll struggle to get it off. A heavier container has the advantage that it won't easily move when you put a brush into the ink.

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Artist painting outside the Forbidden City, Beijing, China
Gallo Images - Duif du Toit / Getty Images

Two types of paper are used for traditional Chinese painting, absorbent (unsized) and non-absorbent (or alum-sized) paper. The latter is traditionally used for outline-style Chinese painting, where an outline is painted first, then color filled in. Being less absorbent, the ink or paint doesn't spread around or run, and you've more time to work and control. The smooth watercolor paper will also work.
The Paper is not stretched as with watercolor painting but is simply held down in the corners with some weights so it doesn't move around as you paint. Place a piece of felt, blotting paper or newsprint under the sheet you're painting on to absorb any excess water and to protect the surface you're working on.

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