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On my last trip to China, I had one day free to relax after long, hectic days in the megacities of Beijing and Xi’an. It was the perfect opportunity to try something completely different and learn Chinese painting with a local teacher. Luckily, it’s easy to find a teacher offering a Chinese brush painting class in popular cities in China.
In this story, I share my experience of a private Chinese brush painting lesson in the beautiful city of Yangshuo in China’s Guangxi province (near Guilin). Known as the “heavenly hometown of travel on earth”, this scenic region has long been an inspiration for artists, and I hoped some of that would rub off on me!
A Chinese Brush Painting Class in Yangshuo
My artistic travel buddy was desperate to learn Chinese painting, but I have less than zero painting skills, so my expectation level (and enthusiasm) were rock bottom when I walked into the class.
I needn’t have worried though as the teacher was super patient, informative and fun, and our private Chinese painting lesson was perfectly tailored to suit our (very) different artistic skill levels.
Five things I learned from my Chinese brush painting class
- A new skill that was surprisingly enjoyable
- How to make something unique and pretty
- A little bit about Chinese culture
- The history of how documents are signed and “sealed” in China
- How to slow down and relax during a busy schedule
So What is Chinese Brush Painting?
Chinese Brush Painting is the ancient art of using simple brush strokes to create a scene, using soft absorbent brushes, strong Chinese or Indian ink, and permeable Chinese (rice) paper.
The important skills include brush handling, knowing how much to dilute the ink, and how wet the brush should be.
Learning the Basic Chinese Brush Painting Strokes
The first step was learning how to hold the brush properly, how to load it with paint, and then how to paint bamboo. Very slowly, I built up confidence in using the Chinese painting brushes, and I was beyond thrilled that I’d produced something resembling bamboo stalks!
The pace of the lesson was perfect – unhurried and with plenty of opportunities to practice (over and over again).
You may also like: 33 Things to Know Before You Visit China
Chinese Brush Painting Bamboo
The next step was learning how to make the right shapes for bamboo leaves. After more practice, we were ready to slowly start building up our bamboo pictures, with leaves adorning the bamboo stalks we’d created earlier.
As my confidence grew, I started to see some real results. There was lots of encouragement and plenty of laughter – painting was never so much fun at school, where I’d always felt like a total klutz in art classes.
Maybe it was the environment or the delicious cup of Chinese tea I sipped as I worked, but soon I relaxed. In fact, I started to enjoy myself and felt like even I could learn Chinese painting (a little).
Chinese Brush Painting Flowers
My favourite part of the Chinese painting lesson was when we learned how to create delicate pink cherry blossoms! It was a tricky balancing act to get just the right amount of water to avoid making a soggy pink mess at this stage! But the results were lovely.
As we practised, we also learned about the history of Chinese art, and our teacher also shared a little about Chinese culture. I loved this insight into what life is like in China. Before long, our 2-hour lesson was over, and it was time to add the final touch to our paintings.
How to seal Chinese Paintings
Have you ever noticed that Chinese paintings bear a little red mark, like a wax seal? This mark, known as the Chinese chop, is used to sign documents, artwork, and other paperwork.
How is the Chinese chop made?
An identification mark is carved into the bottom of a small item of decorative sculpture formed from soft stone.
How to use a Chinese seal or name chop
- Tap the stamp gently into the ink. Don’t press it down, as this will flood the concave gaps with ink, leaving a stamp that blots and is difficult to clean
- Hold the paper steady and press with a circular motion
- Lift straight up
I never thought I’d be able to learn Chinese painting, but I walked away feeling thoroughly refreshed. I would definitely recommend trying your hand at Chinese painting – either on a trip to China or online.
If you’re planning a trip to China, you might find these posts useful:
- What to Expect on a Li River Cruise in Guilin
- 6 Essential Tips for Visiting the Terracotta Warriors
- The Ultimate Great Wall of China Guide