Chinese Painting Techniques for an Exquisite Watercolor

Written by phil whitmer
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Chinese Painting Techniques for an Exquisite Watercolor
The Chinese landscape provides interesting watercolour painting subjects. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Chinese watercolour painting techniques are based on a 6,000-year-old tradition of brush painting with ink and mineral-based colour pigments. Watercolours were adopted from Europe by Chinese artists around 1900. Calligraphic and traditional painting techniques are adapted by modern Chinese artists to produce exquisite watercolours featuring landscapes, figures, flowers and animals.

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Chinese watercolour painting techniques are executed using Chinese materials. Traditional Chinese watercolours contain mineral and vegetable pigments mixed with animal glue binders. Chinese brushes feature soft, hard or a mix of animal hair. They have long, fine tips allowing a variety of expressive strokes. Raw shaun rice paper is highly absorbent and used for spontaneous-style painting with broad, blended strokes suggesting form and texture. Harder, mature rice paper allows fine strokes for highly detailed artworks.

Brush Techniques

Chinese watercolour brush techniques are adapted from traditional painting methods. The brush is held by the index finger and thumb with the other fingers closed between the palm and the brush. This allows the freedom and flexibility to paint basic types of strokes. The centre brush technique involves the brush held perpendicular to the paper to create soft, evenly toned strokes. The side brush technique is where the brush is held at an angle of 90 degrees or less to the paper. This creates broken, rough-looking strokes.

Multiple Colors

Chinese brushes are designed to absorb and hold more colour than regular brushes. Their long, soft animal hairs allow the painter to load two or more colours in a single brush. The brush is soaked in water, held sideways and rolled in the pigment. The colours can be mixed or kept separate on different parts of the brush. This technique allows multiple graded colour effects with a minimum of brush strokes.


While appearing naturalistic, Chinese watercolour techniques do not strictly adhere to Western principles of composition. Perspective is often ignored, with pictures depicted from a bird's-eye view, as if the viewer were looking down on the subject from above. The background is often left out or simplified to draw attention to the painting's subject, whether it's flowers, animals or people. There is often no fixed light source in Chinese artworks, allowing more interpretive freedom for the artist.

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