Painting in China has a long history of evolution and refinement, one that is entirely unique comparing to the other ways of painting humanity has ever developed. The major element of traditional Chinese painting was nature motif, and a work itself was an attempt to capture a feeling, or an immediate response, not an image. Such attitude toward art gave these paintings a mainly expressive character in both of their materials and techniques.
Beginning in antiquity and continuing through the centuries, the pigments used for Chinese painting are derived from minerals or organic sources such as plants. Chunks of pigments are crushed and ground into fine powder and then combined with a binding agent such as animal glue. The color strength is controlled by mixing the pigment with shell white, obtained from ground seashells. That is why Chinese colors can not be mixed in the manner as Western water-based colors to produce an infinite range of shades. Once prepared, pigments are applied in layers to silk and paper. There were a wide range of colors in ancient China; at least 72 colors were recorded in the Tang dynasty. Though meticulous style painting fell out of fashion after the rise of ink painting, 30 colors remained in use as late as the Yuan dynasty. Playing a less important part in modern practice, only a dozen of Chinese colors are available today, and some of them, such as eosin, are actually Western colors. Since the industrial revolution of the late 1970s, synthetic pigments, light consistency as much the same, have become increasingly prevalent.
- sulfide yellow
- vermilion 2
- burnt sienna
- green 2
- green 3
- blue 2
- blue 3
Chinese ink comes in stick form, which is shared by both painting and chirography. This stick, which is known as Indian ink in to West, is rubbed down on a slab, a flat stone sloping into a well, where it is diluted to the required shade. Chinese sticks are made from either the black pigment of pine-soot or oil-soot. Oil-shoot, for example, is derived from burning tung-oil. In a closed room, rows of hooded small earthenware lamps are lit. When a light layer of lampblack forms under the metal hoods, the hoods are replaced and the soot is brushed off by a feather. The soot is sifted, ground, graded and mixed with warm animal glue into a dough that is allowed treated with additives, beaten in a stone mortar, pressed into the mould, trimmed, painted, and dry. There are hundreds of additives on a traditional list, such as gold, oyster shells, powdered jade and musk; each of them is selected ritualistically in both of its physical and symbolic properties. The first ink in stick form was made in Han dynasty and treasured by the Chinese ever afterwards. By the end of the 19th century, read-made liquid ink came in use for its convenience; it doesn't produce the darkness as a stick does, though.
Preparing ink. A little water is added to a stone slab. A stick is rubbed against the stone in a gentle, slow, circular motion until the desired ratio of pigment to water is achieved. Test it on a strip or rice paper. If it is too thick, it will not flow well; if it is too wet, it will blot and expand.
Chinese papers, known to West as rice papers, come into their own for brush painting. They are generally thinner and more absorbent than Western papers, so there is a close relationship between color, ink, brush and paper. These papers preserve each stroke a remarkable form and clarity. They seem to retain the action of the stroke in a way that Western watercolor papers do not. This is especially evident in unsized rice paper, to which pigments are absorbed immediately and become an integral part of the fabric of the paper rather than sitting on its surface. When the brush is slightly under-charged, the edge of the line breaks up, giving an expressive drybrush look. With diluted ink and an over-charged brush, flooding and bleeding occur at the edges, giving a softer, gray effect. Besides paper, silk is also a traditional support for Chinese brush painting. Chinese silk is naturally highly absorbent and in order to paint on it, you must first size it and then degrease it by dusting with chalk. The appearance of the brushwork on silk depends no a the texture of the types of weave - tight or loose. The use of silk as painting support has generally been confined to the China.
In Chinese painting the brush itself is all important. Held in bamboo handles, the brushes range from fine to large and thick-bodied, but all came to a sharp point above the swelling of the body. There are three categories in these brushes. The first one is hard brush, which is made of neck hair of hare and tail hair of weasel, leopard or badger. Springy and holding least water, they suit linear brushwork. The next is soft brush, which is commonly made of tail hair of goat. Holding a good deal of water, they are generally used in spontaneous freehand style painting. The last is combined brush, in which soft goat hair is packed around a hard core. As suggested by its name, this brush combines the merits of other two categories. Because Chinese painting is a highly stylized language, each brush is more or less designed for a particular use, resulting hundreds of brush varieties.
- Ink slab
- Porcelain saucers
- Brush rack