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Painting a bamboo – Elizabeth Yu Ellsworth

A Painting Lesson

Are you ready to do your own Chinese brush painting? Good! If you are not sure about what you’ll need go to Material and learn about the Four Treasures of Chinese painting.

Today we will do a painting of a bamboo. Bamboo is usually the first subject tackled by beginning students. It is the easiest subject to master and is also the most calligraphic. Bamboo painting is all about the beauty of line. You will be amazed at all the different qualities of line you can achieve with just one brush, simply by changing the angle and pressure with which you hold it.

Practicing Separate Elements


Start by practicing the stems of the bamboo. The stems rise from the ground and grow towards the sky. In the same way, when you paint the stems start with the brush at the bottom of the page and pull upwards. Press the brush hairs flat against the paper, pull up to paint the first segment, and release. Leave a little space in between each segment. Repeat till you reach the top of the paper. Make a whole page of stems this way. See if you can vary them in width as well as dark and lightness.

stems and nodes with nodes

Now fill in the bamboo nodes. These are the little hooked lines which connect the segments of the bamboo. Make them a little darker than the bamboo stems.


Next practice painting a page of small branches. It takes more control to make all the branches thin like this so hold your brush close to the bottom of the brush and rest your hand lightly against the paper.

leaves in circle

Start a new sheet of paper to practice the leaves. When painting leaves it is important to continually change the brush pressure. Think of the brush as a dancer, with the very tip of the brush being the dancer’s toes. Start the leaf by having the dancer up on the tips of her toes. As you paint the leaf the dancer comes down flat on her feet and then gradually rises up on her toes again. In this way you will get the beautiful thin point at the beginning and end of the leaf, and the thicker part in the middle. Practice a whole circle of leaves this way.

leaf pattern

Now practice grouping the leaves in patterns of twos, threes and fours. Notice the leaves touch or almost touch at the top and are spread apart at the bottom. As in playing golf or tennis, follow through with the arm after each brushstroke is complete.


Putting It All Together

You are now ready to combine all the elements you’ve practiced into a finished painting. Start with a clean sheet of paper. Paint a singular stem that starts from the bottom of the page and goes off the top. Don’t worry if there are white spaces where the ink was sparce. These white spaces enhance the three dimensional look of the stem.


Now add the nodes in between each of the segments.

stem and branches

Add a few branches. Note that the branches grow from the bamboo nodes; never from the middle of the stems.

stems and lower leaves

Add a group of leaves to the bottom branches. In this painting I decided to make it a cluster of five.

stems and upper leaves

Finally add two more clusters of leaves to the upper branches. Try to vary the amount of ink so some leaves appear darker and some lighter. In this way some leaves will look closer to you while others appear farther away.

Your painting is now complete. Rather than clutter up the painting with many branches and leaves, allow the bamboo to be surrounded by a good deal of “white” or “empty space”. In a Chinese painting the empty space is as important as that which is painted. The saying “less is more” particularly holds true for this style of Chinese painting.

finished bamboo with chop

If you have a chop (a stamp with your name carved onto it) you can add it alongside the painting. Always place the chop in a place where it does not interfere with the rest of the painting. You can also place it someplace where the subject of the painting needs a counterbalance in the space on the paper.



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