Many Chinese paintings are produced on Chinese rice paper, (often called XuanZhi,) not with oil or on canvas. The artist takes the brush, after dipping in a water-based ink (black and other water based pigments) and after the proper amount of blotting on a scrap paper, applies the pigments with different pressure, strokes and wrist movements. Multiple types of brushes are used; though similar to the brush used for watercolor painting in the West, it has a finer tip suitable for dealing with a wide range of subjects and for producing the variations in line required by different styles.  The brushes are make of different animal hair for durability.

Type of Painting Brushes:

JanHao: rabbit and wolf hair together, various sizes

Lang Hao: Wolf Hair: handwriting, trees, and stone

Da Lan Zu: used for painting bamboo


The ancients used the expression yu pi yu mo (to  have brush, to have ink).  These show the significance of the meaning for the two terms pi (brush) and mo (ink). Chinese painting describes the concept of the human existence as seen by the artist, whereas Western painting represents an exact depiction of what the eye sees, not so much as what is felt by the artist. So, for example depiction of water most times uses bland painting (strokes that would make you think it is water only)  where Western art will paint the water green or blue, as seen by the eye.

The brush techniques so much emphasized in Chinese painting include not only line drawing but also the stylized expressions of shade and texture (cunfa) and the dotting methods (dianfa) used mainly to differentiate trees and plants and also for simple embellishment.

The brush strokes give the painting rhythm and beauty and depict the subject's outward and inner qualities.  At the same time, they reveal the individuality and style of the painter herself.

Rice paper dates back over 1,000 years. It is made from the bark of the wingceltis (Pterocelitis tartarinowii) mixed with rice straw. The making of this xuan zhi paper is painstaking in its procedure involving at least 18 processes and nearly 100 operations. This process takes over 300 days from the selection of the components to the finished product.

The xuan zhi (rice paper) is praised as the "king" of all papers and is touted to last 1,000 years. This lasting quality is due to being as white as alabaster; it is soft and firm, resistant to ageing and worms. It absorbs but does not spread the ink from the brush, which goes over it with a effort of "not too smooth or to course".

Rice paper is also employed for painting, calligraphy, and is been noted as the "palate" of diplomatic notes, important archives and other important documents.

The paper is not stretched before being used, as with traditional Western watercolor. Instead it is held down with a paper weight on the edge during the painting process.

The downside of xuan zhi (rice paper) is that it is easily torn like most other papers. Mounting of the art, through a traditional Chinese technique, not only decreases the possibility of tearing of the masterpiece, but adds to is preservation (more rigid; color fixation) and adds to ease of framing or display.


Ink predominantly made of vegetables and mineral substances has been used in calligraphy and painting for over two thousand years.  When the ink cake was ground on the painter's stone slab with fresh water, ink of various consistencies could be prepared depending on the amount of water used.  Thick ink is very deep and glossy when applied to paper or silk.  Thin ink appears lively and translucent.  As a result, in ink-and-wash paintings it is possible to use ink alone to create a rhythmic balance between brightness and darkness, and density and lightness, and to create an impression of the subject's texture, weight and coloring.

There are differences in the use of color between Chinese painting and modern western painting.  Chinese painting's aim is not to express the various shades of color of the subject in relation to a fixed source of light, but to express the characteristics of the different subjects.

For example, the adding of traces of brown or green to rocks, trees, leaves, grass and moss in a painting is used to reinforce the feeling of a particular season or state of the weather.