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Chinese Painting And Calligraphy Influences: Analytical Essay

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When my parents first migrated to Australia, we lived in an area which was largely populated by Chinese immigrants. Naturally, I was influenced by Chinese culture and grew to enjoy their, food, culture and social interactions. Many Chinese migrants opened shops which displayed Chinese writing and symbolisms. I was fascinated by these writings and the unique symbols and would try to replicate them as a child creating secret meanings for different patterns only I understood. Not only did I practice Chinese calligraphy as a youngster but also Arabic calligraphy, the letters of which, had been taught to me by my father. I would scribble calligraphic art away on my school books, to which I would be admonished by teachers. As my interest for history grew I would again rekindle a deep interest for Chinese calligraphy and culture when I read about a Chinese Muslim general who sailed the world on a great Chinese treasure fleet meeting and demanding the respect of all who gazed upon his fleet. He’s name was Zeng He and through reading about him, I was able to relate to the Chinese culture more than ever as this Chinese hero was someone who shared my faith and beliefs. Zeng He was a patron of the arts. Large parts of his journey was and is still to this day being documented through traditional Chinese art forms ranging from calligraphic writings to Chinese paintings. So when I received my art project, I saw it as an opportunity to learn more about one of the oldest artistic culture of all time…

[image:] (A modern Chinese art piece showcasing the grandeur of Zeng He’s fleet.)

What is Chinese painting and calligraphy?

Traditional Chinese painting (Gouhua) is an oriental form of art that is distinctively different from other oriental art forms. The term generally refers to Painting with a brush on rice paper or other materials. Painters are able to create a rich variation of images with a soft brush that uses ink or paint used on paper or other surfaces with work well this absorbing water. Chinese calligraphy and painting come from the same origins. Disciples of both arts use the same tools and surfaces to paint on, specifically brushes and paper and create artistic appeal by varying the thickness and direction of strokes. These two art forms are a fundamental aspect of traditional Chinese culture and are now becoming recognized worldwide for their merit. Both locals to the traditions and foreigners are now studying and learning to appreciate these ancient, respected arts.

Step One

The first step I took during this learning journey was to observe Chinese artwork and figure out what I wanted to do. I went to the library borrowed a heap of books on Chinese painting and calligraphy. One of the core questions I had during this period was if I was going to do an art piece that featured painting only or calligraphy only and if there was a possibility that they could both be featured. Through my observations I learned that both Chinese painting and calligraphy were connected and intertwined and featured together in many art works. Some of the paintings that I enjoyed were the following:

(Picture one: An artwork called, Integrity, Vitality and Purity: Referring to the three durable plants of winter: Pine, bamboo and plum blossom trees. These three plants are referred to as the three friends because of their graceful durability even through the harsh winters. The motif highlights the constructive companionship of the three plants: The pine tree looks quirky but is supposed to be elaborate, the bamboo is lean but has a long lifespan, and the beautiful plum blossoms thrive under the winter chill. The trees symbolise 4 noble characters which are cherished in traditional Chinese culture: purity, righteousness, graceful aging and vitality.)

(Picture two: An Artwork called, Radiance of Joy: The meaning of which is: Having smiley eyes under raised eyebrows upon receiving great news. A magpie is a beloved animal in Chinese traditions. It is believed to be the bearer of great and wonderful news. (Plum blossoms) and (eyebrows) are both pronounced as “mei” in Chinese. The meaning is therefore communicated with two or more magpies sitting on plum branches.

After my initial research I was intrigued by the powerful subtlety of messages communicated through traditional Chinese artwork. I decided that since I was creating an artwork, it had to be an idea that was unique but did not stray too far from fundamental traditional values. My research helped me understand that Chinese calligraphy helped reinforce the meaning a painting was trying to portray. For this reason I decided to create an artwork that featured a plum tree, (not for the meaning behind it, but rather the visual fascination by it) and also include the word ‘Spring’ written in calligraphic font.

Step Two

After gaining an understanding of which direction I wanted to take with my art work I turned my attention to the tools and materials I would require to start my project. Though my research I came across the phrase that relates to the tools required by an artist or calligraphist they are referred to as the: “The Four Treasures of Study”. This concept is used by Chinese artists and shows the importance they attach to these implements. They include paper, brush, ink, and Inkstone. These are not only tools for a process but a crystallization of the time-honoured Chinese culture.

Paper: I didn’t know Chinese use a special paper for painting called (Xuanzhi). The paper made of natural materials including wingceltis bark, straw, mulberry timber and bamboo. The paper is quiet thin, light and durable. Ink and water produce a rich variety of images on its surface thus making it indispensable in traditional Chinese paints and calligraphy. Producing this paper is a strenuous process which requires many procedures taking up to a year to create. Xuanzhi paper is categorized into raw, half ripe and ripe. Raw paper absorbs ink and water far more effectively than ripe paper making it far more difficult to control. As a beginner I decided to work with a ripe form of the paper as there is greater control over the ink and it does not disperse in an uncontrollable way. The only drawback to this form of paper as I found out later on is that it is susceptible to cracking and cannot be stored for a long time. Due to the price tag of the paper I decided to buy 2 pieces from the Chinese teacher at my placement school and was encouraged to practice on absorbent towels.

Picture: A Xuanzhi paper that I was able to purchase from the school I taught at Brush: Chinese Artist also have an array of brushes in different sizes made from the hair of various animals such as rabbits, goat, weasel and wolf. Brushes made from the hair of Rabbits and goats are referred to as ‘soft’ brushes while brushes made from the fur of wolves and weasels (now substituted with dog fur) is referred to as a ‘tough’ brush. I was able to purchase a medium-sized brush made from a mix of rabbit and goat fur which was advertised as a beginners brush.

It is important to not here that there is an etiquette to using the brush. Teachers and professionals in the field encourage learners to stay upright with an erect back with elbows resting gently on the table. Learners should hold the brush by pinching with thumb and index finger one third the length from above, curling the middle finger and leaning it against the ring finger. The brushes movements should be guided by the strength and movement of the elbow and wrist. This was extremely difficult to implement as movement felt unnatural and the brush was not completely in my control.

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Ink and inkstone: Major ingredients of traditional ink include lampblack and binders that come in the form of ink sticks. These inksticks must be rubbed with water on an Inkstone to make writing or painting ink. Thankfully I was able to bypass this tiring process and buy bottled ink at an art shop.

Step 3

When I had assembled all the tools I required for the task, I fell into a predicament that plagues pre-service teachers when it comes to applying art skills in their classroom. I lost belief in my ability to replicate or create a satisfactory art piece. It was at this moment where I started talking like a madman claiming that I was wasting my time and that I was going to change my project to something easier. After some thought and hindrance, I decided that since I had already purchased all the tools, I was going to tackle the project head-on and put my abilities to the test. Self- efficacy, which is the belief a person has in their abilities to perform a task is a fundamental aspect of creating, applying and teaching art. The lack of one’s ability should not deter them from practicing art. (Roy. D et al, 2019)

I started of my project by practicing some basic strokes and trying to get a feel for the brush. Below are some examples of the strokes I emulated. (Picture of basic strokes)

I then started to write the word spring documented in the following photos. These were some of my first attempts. (Picture of the word spring)

An aspect of using the brush that I found very difficult was controlling the power with which I pressed down. Due to the method with which I was holding the brush, I was unable to maintain complete control over its movements often pushing down too hard on the paper, creating a very thick ugly symbol as seen above. I forsook the traditional method of holding the brush and changed it to a method more comforting and natural to me, but was surprised when I still had the same problem. I was able to bypass this issue when a Chinese teacher from my placement school suggested that the towel paper was possibly an absorbent material.

Step 4

When I was happy with the way my Chinese symbol representing the word “spring” had turned out, I moved onto thinking about how I would approach the plumtree. Below are a few attempts at a plum tree.

I finally had an idea of where and how I wanted to draw the plum tree. Because I’m left handed it was only natural for me to start the branches of the tree from the right-hand side of the page. I derived that this way it would be easier for me to control the swipes of my brush. It was time to put my idea onto the (Xuanzhi) paper.

(Picture. Tree branches coming out of the right and spring written on bottom left)

My final product was good, but I realized I didn’t have much meaning. The plum tree was not a representation of spring as it flowered all year around and the metaphoric meaning to spring which we mentioned earlier on; raised eyebrows, didn’t help my case either.

My painting finally has a name. It is called: Radiance of Spring After a lot of deep thought about how I could give my painting some meaning, I made a breakthrough. I added two magpies to the painting.. As mentioned before the magpies are the bearer of great and wonderful news. (Plum blossoms) and (eyebrows) are both pronounced as “mei” in Chinese. So the drawing of the plum tree takes on the meaning of raised eyebrows. And the calligraphic symbol meaning spring clarifies the good news. The painting means: Having smiley eyes under raised eyebrows upon receiving the news of spring.

I am really contempt that I came to this meaning as it is how I truly feel. I’m sick of winter and looking forward to the coming of spring.

To conclude, I added some red petals to the trees to give the painting a little bit more colour (Picture of coloured plant.)


  1. Leitner, A, Report about Admiral Zheng He, Ming Emperor and Seafarer, Red Bull Mediahouse accessed on 16/09/2019
  2. Roy. D, Baker. W, Hamilton. A, 2019, Teaching the Arts: Early Childhood and Primary Education, 3rd Edition, Cambridge University Press p.25
  3. Rui. C, Zhonghua. Z, Yanan. J, Yu. Z, 2014, Guide to Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, Cypi Press

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Chinese Painting And Calligraphy Influences: Analytical Essay. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from
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