||The range of subject matters dealt with in figure
painting was extended far beyond religious themes during the
Song dynasty(960-1127),. Paintings of historical character and
stories of everyday life became extremely popular. Techniques
were also further refined.
had already established itself as an independent form of expression by
the 4th century. Then gradually developed into the two separate
styles of “blue-and-green landscapes” and “ink-and-wash
landscape”. The blue-and-green landscape used bright
blue, green and red pigments derived from minerals to create a richly
decorative style. The ink-and wash landscape relied on vivid
brushwork and varying degrees of intensity of ink to express the
artist's conception of nature, and his own emotions and individuality.
painting was separated from decorative art to form an
independent genre around the 9th century. A great many artists
painted in this genre during the Song dynasty and their subject matter
included a rich variety of flowers, fruits, insects and fish.
Many of the scholar painters working with ink and brush used a great
economy of line. They produced paintings of such things as
plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo, chrysanthemums, pines and cypresses,
using their subject matter to reflect their own ideals and character.
Modern painters have often
mixed several colors on one brush or mixed their colors with black
inks. As a result, they have obtained more natural and richly
varied colors. Such techniques have been widely adopted and
further developed in the contemporary period.
Character and Techniques
One of the important factors
contributing to the evolution of the distinctive style of traditional
Chinese painting has been the close relationship between the materials
used and their influence on artistic forms and techniques.
First, there is the Chinese brush.
to the brush used for watercolor painting in the West, it has a finer
tip suitable for dealing with a wide range of subjects and for
producing the variations in line required by different styles. Since
the materials used for calligraphy and painting are essentially the
same, developments in calligraphic styles and techniques can also be
used in painting.
- Brush Techniques and Strokes
The ancients used the
expression yu pi yu mo(to have brush, to have ink). These
show the significance of the meaning for the two terms pi(brush) and
The brush techniques so much emphasized in Chinese painting include not
only line drawing but also the stylized expressions of shade and
texture (cunfa) and the dotting methods(dianfa) used mainly to
differentiate trees and plants and also for simple embellishment.
The brush strokes give the
painting rhythm and beauty and depict the subject's outward and inner
qualities. At the same time, they reveal the individuality and
style of the painter himself.
Type of Painting
- Hsieh chao pi: Crab claw brush,
large and small sizes
- Hua jan pi: brush for painting
- Lan yu chu pi: brush for painting
orchids and bamboo
Brushes used for
- T’u hao pi: rabbit's hair brush
- Hu ying pi: Hunan sheep's hair
Second, there is the ink. Ink has
been used in calligraphy and painting for over two thousand
years. When the ink cake is ground on the painter's stone slab
with fresh water, ink of various consistencies can be prepared
depending on the amount of water used. Thick ink is very deep and
glossy when applied to paper or silk. Thin ink appears lively and
translucent. As a result, in ink-and-wash paintings it is
possible to use ink alone to create a rhythmic balance between
brightness and darkness, and density and lightness, and to create an
impression of the subject's texture, weight and coloring.
Third, there is paper or
silk. Chinese painting may be done either on Chinese paper or
The original paper(around
100 AD.)was made from many different materials including pulp, old
fishing nets and bark. Modern paper is often machine made.
It is classed in degrees of weight and amount of size used. The
paper is very absorbent and the amount of size in it will dictate the
quantity of ink used for strokes on the paper. Different paper produce
different results; some are rough and absorb ink quickly like a sponge,
others have a smooth surface which resists ink. Chinese paper is
usually known as rice paper in English.
Before painting on silk, the silk should
be treated with alum and glue before use. This method makes
silk less absorbent than paper. Brushstroke is best shown on paper.
Because of this reason and the paper's variety of texture and finish,
paper quickly became favored by artists and calligraphers.
Fourth, there are the
colors. There are differences in the use of color between Chinese
painting and modern western painting. Chinese painting aim is not
to express the various shades of color of the subject in relation to a
fixed source of light, but to express the characteristics of the
For example, the adding of
traces of brown or green to rocks, trees, leaves, grass and moss in a
painting is used to reinforce the feeling of a particular season or
state of the weather.
Fifth, there are composition
and space. Since the creative requirements of Chinese painting do
not demand strict adherence to reality or to a particular angle of view
or source of light, the painter has complete freedom in terms of
artistic conception, structural composition and method of
expression. To give prominence to the main subject, it is quite
permissible to omit the background entirely and simply leave it
blank. At the same time, since the sizes and shapes of the spaces
in the painting are different, the very absence of content can itself
create rhythm and variety. Sometimes the variety and balance
created in this way is further enriched by the addition of inscriptions
in the empty space.
Chinese landscape painters’
aim is to depict the familiar mountains and rivers of China from the
perspective of nature as a whole and on the basis of their
understanding of the laws of nature. In artistic conception and
structural composition, most landscape paintings create the impression
that the scene is viewed from high in the air, as if seen through the
eyes of a bird.
paintings, sometimes a single flower hangs as if suspended in space, or
the flowers and plants of different seasons appear together.
Explained by one of the Ming painters, Wang Fu(1362-1416), as “likeness
through unlikeness” and Qi Baishi(1863-1957) as “subtlety of a good
painting lies in its being alike and yet unlike the subject”
Chinese painters attach great importance to reality, science, space and
time and yet manage to disregard them at the same time. The laws
of these things must come second to the requirements of artistic
creation and should not become shackles that bind artistic expression.
One of the distinctive characteristics
of Chinese painting is the use of inscriptions in poetry of calligraphy
and of special seals as part of the painting itself. This was a
major contribution made by scholar painters. Its significance
lies in its ability to express the theme and artistic conception of the
painting more clearly and deeply while, at the same time, giving great
insight into the artist's individuality, emotions and views on art and
life. In ink-and-wash paintings, the bright red seal adds a
final touch of beauty. When preparing the inscription and seal,
therefore, the Chinese painter, in addition to considering their
content, has always given great thought to the placement, length and
dimensions of the inscription and the position of the seal on the
simplest inscription consists of the artist's name and the date.
Sometimes the inscription could include the occasion for the painting
and the name of the person for whom the painting was done. It
could be about the subject and style of the painting. Quite often the
artist might include a piece of poetry or a literary allusion. These
are all followed by the artist's own seal.
can be carved in stone. It can contain a name, poetical saying, a
design or symbol which has a connection with the painting. The
seals are pressed into a pot or tin of cinnebar paste, a scarlet red
color, and are impressed onto the painting. The paste contains
mercuric oxide, ground silk and oils. It required a careful stamp as it
is rather permanent. When using red seal on a monochrome
painting, it is said to be "adding the eye to the dragon".