Wokingham Art Society
Demonstrations by Jean Turton
Email: jeanmturton@aol.com
2008 Return to Archive 2017
"Nature's Glory", Chinese Brush Painting , 20 June 2017
It was back in November 2008 that Jean was last here. Tonight she had limited time because of the AGM, so she skipped some of the interesting introductory background we heard then. There is no write-up of that here but she gave a similar demo in Camberley (close new window to come back here).

This evening was hot, prompting Jean to produce a silk fan that she had painted in "meticulous style". This name describes how it differs from "literati" or "ink and wash" style which is less detailed.

Chinese art was originally only shades of black but artisan painters started to add colour: indigo, burnt sienna and mid-yellow. Black is still the most important colour.
Jean started straight in with a simple landscape on mulberry paper. Chinese papers are unsized and very absorbant by western stadards, but mulberry absorbs less than basic "bamboo" paper.

At first she established the shape of the ground with horizontal brush strokes dragged down in a dry brush way. Then with the point she outlined a foreground tree, a hut and a man meditating. Once she had done the main trunk and branches she started following the "rule of Y": each time you want a new branch or twig you paint it as the "other" branch of a letter Y. This avoids the appearance of "fish bones" which do not give a convincing tree structure.


Chinese artists do not paint water - instead it is indicated by context, including the introduction of smaller distant features. These were dabbed in as what are called "rice spots" in sets of three.

Jean kept painting over existing bits of the foreground: filling in the tree trunk, strengthening the smaller branches and the initial bits of dry brush work and adding leaves (more, bigger "rice spots").

Traditionally there is no real perspective - you go for a walk into the landscape. A boat is added: to show that the meditative man could cross the water to reach the other side - to give chi to the painting.
The interval gave us a chance to chat to Jean and look at her cards and a stack of her other paintings, mounted on card or (more traditionally) paper. We saw how even her tools, like the ink stone (all Chinese) were works of art in themselves.

She noted that Chinese paper is so thin and absorbant that you need to rest the paper on an old blanket or newspaper. Ink soaks right through, and on a smooth hard surface it may spread across the back of the painting.

Finished work is always stuck to a backing of some sort. She uses flour paste and ordinary paper.

Jean explained that Chinese brushes all come to a fine point because they are made with longer hairs surrounding shorter ones. They hold a lot of ink. For fine detail the only real advantage of smaller brushes is that they use less ink.


Brush hair comes form various sources, commonly sheep and weasel tails (referred to as "Wolf", perhaps because the characters for weasel and wolf look similar).


You hold the brush rather more like chopsticks that a pen - resting on the smaller fingers


Although she has learned to paint in the Chinese style she uses Japanese watercolours. These come in large pans and are strongly pigmented.
Before the interval Jean had just started another painting: this time of flowers.

First, petals were made by filling a sheep's hair brush with blue and painting groups of five strokes. Then green leaves appeared - again a few strokes each. Yellow centres were added, leaving areas of white to maintain freshness. Mixtures of brown and black were used to draw veins in the leaves and a pattern of twigs behind.

A complete painting consists of the picture itself, some calligraphy (complementary poetic text) and the artist's/studio's seal or "chop". Owners chops may also be added as the painting goes from hand to hand, so you can get a complete history actually on the painting itself.
Jean doesn't write in Chinese so she makes plausible-looking marks for the calligraphy. She has several chops of her own and used one of them on this picture. Unlike the black, which is made with charcoal and plain or herbal water, the red used for chops is made with cinnabar: highly poisonous mercury sulphide (HgS).
Drinking left-over Chinese black ink made with medicated water is reputed to have health-giving properties,
while cinnabar causes serious illness. Don't lick your brushes!

Jean had 5 minutes to spare at the end, time to paint what proved to a couple of cranes.
She started with two pale grey oval blobs. Then two sinuous pale grey marks that proved to be necks.
Darker ink went in to give them legs, giving rise to speculation about the character of one bird whose leg bent the wrong way. Bamboo shoots (single strokes in groups of three) and other grassy foliage were even darker

So ended another fascinating evening. Thank you, Jean.
2008 Return to Archive 2017
"Chinese Brush Painting" , 18 November 2008
See write-up of similar demo in Camberley (NB. Close new window to come back here).
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This document is maintained by Sam Dauncey