Snow falling on bamboo

One of the most stunning ways to present bamboo in a painting has got to be with a generous dusting of snow on the foliage. As with all things bamboo-related, depicting such a vignette is no easy feat. I’ve played with this subject material many a time with not much satisfaction. Given my recent successes with bamboo clusters, I thought I’d give snow another chance.

There would appear to be at least three ways in which one can convey the presence of snow on bamboo leaves, branches and stalks. The oldest and most traditional manner is to simply ‘paint around’ imagined white lumps, depicting parts of leaves/branches that stick out of the snow. This method can also be improved with shading some of the snowy lumps with pale indigo or ink.

A second method involves ‘painting’ in the snow over top of a bamboo composition, using some form of white paint. Instruction manuals usually suggest ‘white tempura’ but there are a number of excellent white paints to have in your art bag. I use a brand called Doc. Martin, which is also useful for painting white highlights in eyes.  A small jar can last you a long time!  (You do have to take care not to sully it with ink.)

A third general approach is to compose your bamboo around areas portrayed as snow that are ‘masked out’ with a substance such as a manufactured masking agent, glue, or even milk. One could also ‘shield’ an area with paper and paint over top.


I have numerous books on bamboo painting but most do not go beyond a basic introduction. Two that do address ways to depict snow on bamboo are:

  1. Leslie Tseng-tseng Yu in Chinese Painting in Four Seasons
  2. Johnson Su-sing Chow in Vol. 2 Book of the Bamboo from his four-volume set on the Four Gentlemen

I have also collected examples of snowy bamboo from other books addressing such things as pandas and monkeys.  And then there’s a wonderful video by Nan Rae on Youtube that shows how to render snowy bamboo in front of a moon. See this link.

My Studies:

I first tried using white paint over inky bamboo. I did prepare a medium wash of white paint,  thinking snow should appear lighter in some areas, but quickly found it disappeared.



Yu’s illustration seems to have a slightly grey background which was probably washed on from the back of the painting.

I have used milk as a masking agent in the past with great success. This procedure takes some preplanning as the ink goes OVER the area covered with milk (and allowed to air dry or facilitated with a hair dryer). As the milk can be hard to SEE on white paper, this process requires some trust and imagination. But the benefits can be surprises that work better than you intended.


the milkfirst

Milk on white paper is not easy to SEE! here it is still damp.

Johnson Su-sing Chow’s guidance for depicting snow by leaving select areas white was detailed, but his illustrations did not look too promising to me. Nevertheless, my third exercise was to try and envision how bamboo clusters would appear under snowy clumps. As expected, this exercise offered the challenge of painting PARTS of leaves.



This technique requires not only imagination to envision the ‘snow’ but also skill in portraying parts of leaves. What a challenge!

4. For the next exercise I ripped up bits of paper into rounded shapes and positioned them on my art paper. When the small papers refused to stay put I gave them a bit of spit and re-positioned them. Then I painted clusters as usual right over top of the ‘shielded’ areas. Some ink soaked right through the paper shields, but did so in a random fashion.


spit happens

Spit happened! That seemed a good way to keep the bits of paper in place while I painted my clusters OVER the leaves. I grabbed tweezers to lift the shield afterward to avoid smudges.


Reflecting on my exercises I concluded using white paint gave me more control over both the leaves and the snow mounds; the masking methods and the negative painting method (leaving snowy areas white) took more preplanning in terms of the leaf clusters and composition as a whole.  I have yet to play with the sky washes from behind to suggest white snow mounds on leaves and branches.

Here is an example of bamboo in snow done in the traditional manner of leaving white for the snow. You’ll note the background is given a wash that doesn’t touch the leaves and branches; I would want to cover the white areas under leaves and branches where snow would not have mounded for a more realistic portrayal.



Here are two examples in my files of snow-covered pine.   I find pine needles easier to imagine and position sticking out of snow than bamboo leaves. Getting a brush to cut off the bamboo leaf that is under the snow is challenging.




Perhaps several more practice sessions are in order; I hope to be able to complete more than a single bamboo leaf cluster with snow on it.


At my next art group morning I painted this snowy scene; I set out a few simple leaf clusters, all similarly hanging down as if wet and cold.


Posted in Chinese Brush Painting, painting bamboo, the four gentlemen | 1 Comment

Tips on (bamboo) tips

Always practice bamboo.

That’s one of the mantras often repeated in Chinese brush painting instruction books. It’s the sage advice of many an instructor. And it is advice I’m starting to realize I cannot ignore.

There is the one obvious reason: when you don’t practice, you get ‘out of practice’, meaning you lose your confidence in executing a simple leaf formation needed to finish a composition. Worst of all, if you’ve just spent hours on a complex painting you certainly don’t want to ruin it with a carelessly considered leaf that is too sloppy, too wide, too wet, too parallel to a nearby one, and so on.

Another reason for ‘always painting bamboo’ has to do with its versatility. You may have heard that learning bamboo is fundamental to all Chinese brush painting. If you practice (and study) the several elements of bamboo painting—stalks, nodes, stems, buds, roots, and the myriad shapes to leaves and clusters—you are more likely to discover something new that can be applied in other circumstances.

The last time I attended a workshop on bamboo painting given by friend and mentor Nenagh Molson her explanation of “tipping off” a bamboo stalk led to several insights about finishing paintings, particularly bamboo compositions. And it all started with her showing us the Chinese character for “bamboo” and drawing our attention to the hidden secrets in the calligraphic strokes.


“Writing” bamboo

The calligraphic character involves four different strokes, two of which are repeated. The horizontal one should be recognizable to most CBP artists as the ‘bone stroke’. This time out Nenagh drew our attention to the very last stroke, that little upward stroke at the end of the character—kind of like the end of a J. It is also in the character ‘yong’ I blogged about here.

The stroke is called “gou” aka “yo” for those who want to know. Here’a a Youtube video showing how the character is written and you can also hear the pronunciation of each stroke.

Nenagh then showed us two ways to finish the tip of a growing bamboo stalk, and of course there was that little upwards hook stroke (see 2 below). The second way (number 1 below) was a variation, twisting the brush slightly differently.


From there, we got to talking about numerous ways to define the growing tip of bamboo branches, and different painters seem to have their favourites.  In the following image of a well executed bamboo composition I digitally isolated the growing tips on numerous branches to show their similar completion. This artist has used mostly a slightly curved single leaf (a few are ‘broken’ or ‘split’) and the result is a consistent look to his plant. The weather conditions are probably sunny–not windy or rainy.


I knew from last summer’s studies of Professor I-Hsiung Ju’s Book of Bamboo—the effort that gave me much confidence with defining clusters and even groves—that my own repertoire probably included three:

  1. the slender “new moon”
  2. a single straight stroke in any direction
  3. a long leaf extended and ‘broken’ in the wind

I’ve recently added the upward ‘broken’ leaf treatment to my repertoire for bamboo leaves on branches. It is quite elegant placed next to a smaller slim leaf at the very tip. Do note how leaves emerge from opposite sides of the branch, NOT in opposing positions such as on ash trees.


My repertoire was thus up to five. After Nenagh’s workshop I went back to my books and files, and gained some new insights from various sources.


The Mustard Seed Garden Manual has numerous images showing ways to finish bamboo branches. I was pleased to see they did NOT advocate leaving a tip (even for new fresh growth, in the sun, facing upwards) that held two opposing leaves in a VEE formation.

When I see that in a composition the strong VEES look like bird tracks, and distract from the overall look of the plant. As a gardener, I know that maybe one or two branch tips may have lost their end growth but not all at one time (unless a severe pruning has just been done!).

In the MSGM the artist shows slim little end branch tips, or slim leaves (new moons abound) or long slender split ones. Should there be two opposing leaves at the end of a branch, they angle other than a vee, and they have a tiny bit of stem between them, if not a sheath around a growth tip.


I went on to discover different clusters I had not tried before.

As often happens, the process of filing away workshop notes and flipping through files for specific treatments (bamboo branch tips) led to some new inspirations. I’m trying to get a better grasp of painting bamboo in outline or sketch method, and depicting it in snow. Those studies look promising…and I am trying to get in a habit of ‘always practicing bamboo’.











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Crested Mynha, essential bird

The first few times I noticed a crow-like bird sporting a distinctive tuft where beak meets brow in oriental art I thought it was an artistic expression. Perhaps it was a popular exaggeration of some bird’s spirit that had ‘gone viral’. I soon recognized the attractiveness of a bird that is mostly black and has features that can be rendered with some flair—the eyes, the beak, the yellow legs and feet.


Ling Mao Caochong Juan provides several pages of various crested mynha bird poses for inspiration. His book is in the middle of the bottom row in the next image.

I soon discovered the Crested Mynah is not indigenous to North America, although the species was introduced to Vancouver BC about 100 years ago and thrived for decades. It is classified as a starling (family Sturnidae) and thus not related to the crow (Corvidae) as closely as I guessed. It does measure in the nine-eleven inches size range similar to crows, sports mostly black feathers with some white markings, and then has that distinctive tuft emerging from the top of its beak. It is an easy creature to add to a brush painter’s repertoire.


My shelves include numerous general bird-painting manuals, and several address the crested mynah. I favor the presentations of these five:

  1. Johnson Su-sing Chow, Vol. 2 in his bird-painting manual series.
  2. Yang O-Shi, 100 Birds
  3. Ling Mao Caochong Juan (Chinese Brush painting)
  4. Hao Bang Yi (Bird Painting basics, yellow cover series)
  5. Mei Ruo, Chinese Brush Painting, a beginner’s step by step guide.


All five approach crested mynahs in much the same way and offer oodles of helpful poses. Oddly enough Yang O-shi starts her bird with the shoulders, and then adds the head and beak. The others all proceed in the traditional manner of beak, eyes, head, shoulders, body, wings, tail, and legs.

Bird-painting Tip:

Many CBP artists prefer the beak-first approach to painting birds, saying that if you get the beak ‘right’ then all else follows. Mei Ruo goes a step further and presents an image showing FIVE LINES one needs to envision as you lay down the inky strokes to a bird’s head: brow line, eye line, face line, cheek line and chin line.


Painting Steps:

  1. With a fine detail brush and black ink define the beak; just behind and above the line that heads toward the bird’s throat from the upper bill define the eye (oval shape with dark pupil)
  2. Using black ink paint in the distinctive tuft above the beak and fill in the head. Note that this bird has a flattened oval head.
  3. Continue to define the bird’s shoulders using stabbing dry brush strokes with medium/light ink.
  4. Brush in the body, wings, tail feathers. The mynah has some white markings on its wings.
  5. Using an orange-yellow outline legs, then dab on scales in dark ink when dry.
  6. Paint the environment.

Here’s my crested mynah bird study sheet showing the steps; in the last panel I tried a few different poses.

In two of my early mynah bird comps I encountered mishaps–in one the legs went down too wet and started ‘blooming’ on the page.  I quickly blotted them and scuffed up the color with clear water.  I then dried the paper with a hair dryer and re-did the legs, taking greater care in moisture control.  This is a ‘hail Mary’ effort one should practice so that when you have to save a really complex comp you can do it with confidence. Look closely at this bird’s right leg to see if you can spot where the yellow was lifted from the paper.


In another, moisture control again caused some grief in the final stages (see upper left corner leaf), but the result could not be saved:


And then I painted a successful grouping of crested mynah birds (which realistically should have had yellow legs, but artistically have crows’ feet). These glued well and have now been chopped and framed.


The simple markings of the crested mynha, as well as the potential for playing with the eyes, beak and tuft, hold considerable appeal.  This is one bird I may paint often.

Posted in Chinese Brush Painting, crested mynah, how to paint birds | 2 Comments

Ink, one of the Four Treasures

The weakest ink is mightier than the strongest memory.   (Chinese proverb)

Brushes and paper are the two treasures most often considered by those of us obsessed by Chinese Brush Painting (CBP). Ink stones and ink, the remaining two, seldom garner much attention, at least not on the same scale as brushes and paper.


Do I grind or pour, that is the question…

We spend time and money tracking down paper: we hunt for it in foreign markets while traveling, we purchase much more than we would ever use in order to have some for exchange with other like-minded scavengers, and we hoard it in our cupboards once we have a stash.

As for brushes, in reality we could manage with two or three—a large soft orchid brush, a fine detail brush, and a hake for applying washes efficiently. But the truth of the matter is that we succumb to the allure of just about every kind of painting instrument we see. Our brush pots, drying racks, and woven fiber rolls hold countless varieties—goat, sheep, wolf, badger, horse tail, squirrel, rat whisker, even some fashioned of human hairs. Then there are those of mixed hairs, some we have hacked up deliberately to create a ‘scruffy’, and even some we’ve used so long only thin wisps remain. All have their place in our hearts as ‘treasures’.

But ink? Other than choosing to use purchased bottled ink or grind our own from an ink stick, most CBP enthusiasts give ink little thought. I find bottled ink gets me to task sooner than taking time to grind. I know that the more traditional grinding serves a purpose: you clear your mind and properly ‘prepare’ for the painting session ahead. And if you select ink sticks with some discretion you can prepare a ‘stickier’, DARKER ink than you’ll get from a bottle. (Well, except when you pour bottled ink on a hot day and considerable liquid evaporates before the end of your session; that un-intended action can also lead to ‘sticky’ ink in the dish.)

THE book on Ink has been written!

There are times when a good work of non-fiction can outweigh the intrigue of fiction. The Social Life of Ink, culture, wonder, and our relationship with the written word by Canadian English professor Ted Bishop passes that bar and then some. His 2014 opus has been described as ‘part travel narrative, part hidden history, part cultural exploration’ and ‘fascinating, with writing as tactile and fluid as ink rolling across rice paper’.


As a retired wordsmith, I indeed found every single chapter compelling and entertaining. As an enthusiast of CBP, I could hardly put the book down once I got into Part II The Art of Ink. Bishop outdid himself in researching the history of ink-making in China. He visited factories, travelled to the famed Yellow Mountain region where the best inks have been made for centuries, and even tried learning to ‘write’ a few Chinese characters.

Much to absorb

The best parts of the chapter on ink for me, aside from details of his factory visits, were the insights into ink additives and all the old secret recipes and the poems. One excerpt:

“Traditionally, credit for the invention of ink goes to the third-century calligrapher Wei Ten. In his recipe, after you’ve strained your soot and dissolved your glue in the juice of the chin tree, you add five egg whites, one ounce of crushed pearl, and the same amount of must, after they’ve been separately treated and well strained.”

Bishop’s research uncovered a range of ink additives to improve color, consistency and aroma, such as peony rind, pig or carp galls, pearls, pomegranate, and sandalwood. He notes over 1100 possible ingredients!!! I will never sit at my art table with quite the same non-reverent attitude again.

And then there were Bishop’s poetic discoveries. Beginning with Xue Tao, a Tang dynasty poetess (c. 770-832) the author cites relevant verse (translations) to enhance his cultural and social history.

‘Old pine burned forming light charcoal flowers,

The exquisite ink-making skills of brother Li

How describe the deep, cool shining color?

Darker than the fair lady’s hair, a crow flying in winter.’


And another, this from a poet called Chang Yu:


‘Burning orchid-lamps, we invited the moon to join us;

drinking wine, we plucked the strings of our lute.

Who would have thought that for another evening of joy

we would have to wait for thousands of years!

Now your wandering spirit is far away in darkness,

and only cold words are left, in your own hand.

The dusty ink still gives off a light fragrance,

the paper is torn, but still has its lustre.


And from Li Po (aka Li Bai), China’s equivalent of our William Shakespeare, part of one of his poetic tributes to ink:


Soot made of Shang-tang Mountain green pine,

Mixed with cinnabar powder of I-ching,

And orchid oil and musk, a precious ink is made,

Its glaze shines so luxuriously that one is afraid to use.


The servant boy with two coiffures brought it in,

Wrapped in a brocade sack, carefully on his arm;

With this gift from you I am going at once to the Orchid Pavilion.

When inspiration comes upon me, I shall write happily with my brush and your ink.’


I must find this book for my shelf of favorite bedside reading.

I should really put aside the bottle and grind my own ink, now that I am aware of just some of its reasons for being so treasured.

I will sew a brocade sack for my stick and my stone, to carry them as they should be carried.





Posted in Chinese Brush Painting, ink | 1 Comment

Spreading peace, love and joy: painting peacock

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know I like stories that illuminate the spirit of the creatures I study. The older and more legendary the story, the more appealing it is for me.  Several gorgeous peacocks greeted us at a local lavender farm recently and  prompted me to consult my art books.


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The peacock, is probably the most striking and the most fabled bird of all time. Most legends concern its association with pride, its distinctive so-called “tail feathers” or its prowess at killing snakes. I found one blogger has already collected a host of such tales,  which made for delightful reading. My favorite story is one that explains how the peacock acquired its distinctive train feathers. See this link.

The tale ends by asserting the gift of a peacock feather spreads peace, love and joy. My CBP books claim it represents beauty, dignity, and high rank; it is also believed to ward off evil. That said, who wouldn’t want a peacock painting on their wall!

Primer on peacock:

Before delving into painting techniques I had to check out the bird’s anatomy. My first insight had to do with the peacock’s distinctive fan of brilliantly colored feathers: it’s NOT comprised of tail feathers, but is an appendage on his back that he allegedly uses in courting the ladies. Such a feathery construct would suggest to me the peacock is related to the Mandarin duck, which also has an unusual back appendage called a ‘sail’. I found no such proof or discussion.


This photo of a peacock posted in an art group forum on Facebook clearly shows the wing feathers with the collapsed ‘train’ lying along the bird’s back.

I learned there are primarily two species of peafowl in the genera Pavo. They both hail from Asia—the blue-headed or Indian peafowl (pavo cristatus) is originally from India and is designated the national bird; the green-headed peafowl (pavo muticus) is from southern Asia.

Oddly, both males and females of the green peafowl have brightly colored heads and feathers, whereas in the blue-headed variety, only the males sport the colors, with females presenting in drab brown-grey feathers. There is a third African species only found in the Congo Basin and aptly called the Congo peafowl, but it is not as widely known as the main two.

The exotic bird enthusiast who owned the lavender farm we visited had several peacocks strutting majestically through his meadows. He told us the white peacock is NOT an albino, but another species entirely. That recognition has only recently been made among ornithologists.


Both males and females of the green-headed one sport colored heads and the distinctive feathered train.

The function of the elaborate train on peacocks has generated much debate; Charles Darwin launched the ‘sexual attraction’ theory. Others have expounded on significance of the size, coloring, and number of ‘eyes’ in the fan. If only peacocks could talk!

What an artist needs to know:

Now knowing there are basically blue-headed (male only) and green-headed (both genders) peafowl, I’m not as confounded by different head or body colorings depicted in paintings. I suspect the authors of at least two of my books on painting peacocks were not fully up to speed on these facts, as one shows blue-headed birds with and without trains (hence falsely depicting the female as blue-headed) and the other shows pairs of green-headed ones, with the supposed female lacking a train. (Oh boy, do let me keep the coloring sorted out properly!)

The bird’s head is triangular-shaped with a short, pokey beak and eye markings. The head sports a tassel. The train that can be raised into a fan-like structure extends off its back; wings are often speckled with wispy bits trailing from the coverts. The peafowl’s feet are scaly-looking like most bird feet, with long toes showing toenails on the tips (three forward, one back).

I am glad to have lots of photos from our recent farm visit to help guide my studies.

Resources and methods:

Painting peacock is addressed in many general CBP books that include birds, likely because of the bird’s popularity. Jane Dwight includes it in The Chinese Brush Painting  Bible and so does Yang O-Shi in her Flowers and  Birds: a perspective. Birds depicted in both those books have muted tones which I find less appealing than colors used in some specialty books I found. (See below)

Artist Ng Yeesang is featured in The Art of Peacock Painting (the large format one on the right) and it was his birds I chose to emulate.


As one might guess, the peacock will consume large amounts of bright colors. It also takes careful consideration to choose an appropriate setting. Traditionally in CBP the bird is paired with peonies or placed on a tree limb, such that the bird’s spectacular train is displayed.


These close-up photos of real peacock feathers reveal train feather details.

As with any bird, starting with the beak and eye helps establish the bird’s nuance. Building the head and then neck and chest after that, works well. Sketching the body shape and array of feathers lightly is next. Then comes detailing of the head, chest and wings. The exotic feathers take several stages, starting with shading and definition of the ‘eyes’.

  1. Rough sketch outlines for your bird/s using very pale indigo/ink.
  2. Build up the sketch with a fine brush loaded with dark ink to show main head features such as eyes, tassels, markings; drop in details for body feathers (overlapping scallops), the main wing feathers that extend in arches, and horseshoe shapes for the eyes in the train.
  3. Continue to define the body feathers and the long feathers of the train. Each ‘eye’ on the train needs a dark ink ‘pupil’ with three concentric lop-sided ovals.
  4. Only when your inky under-painting is fully defined and you have shaded areas that will appear denser/darker, do you bring out the colors.
  5. Paint the (male) head first, a deep cobalt blue; consider using mineral paint on top. You can blend sky blue and indigo with the cobalt in your brush to suggest sheen to the short, bright feathers. Then treat each ‘eye’ to turquoise, yellow and orange markings. When the eye colors have dried, go over the whole train with shades of yellow-green, darker towards the feather ends. Any breast and wing feathers in sight should be shades of brown, orange, and grey.
  6. For a female bird, your sketch will NOT show a train. Her body should be slightly smaller than for a male, if you paint a pair. Her feathers are brown, grey, and orangey.

My first peafowl studies:


Wanting to define some of the fine details of the long train feathers with fine ink lines I played with using a horsehair brush on my Dragon Cloud paper.  I wasn’t too pleased with the subdued colors, but decided to try a full comp on that paper, hoping to bump up the intensity of the colors.  Here’s how my first few steps looked:


The female’s feathers need some tweaking as does the edge of the male’s train. I’m not happy with his wing treatment, but the foundation comp is worth finishing.


As I sat back to consider the end result (did the rock need more color? should I employ a background wash? etc.) I realized I had painted the female’s head blue, as it appeared in the Ng Yeesang book; I’m not certain that is totally realistic! Wasn’t it the green-headed peafowl that presented with colored heads on both genders and the blue-headed variety only had color on the male’s head?  My armchair critics raised no objections, so maybe I will glue it after all. (I’ll get it right on the next one!)

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Boys and Girls together, figure painting

Any parent who has held a newborn knows the soft curves and tiny features that go into the beauty of human babies. Any artist attempting to capture childish glee knows the anatomy differs from that of adults in more than just size. You can’t simply outline a smaller version of an adult, add dimples and call it done. Nope, there’s much re-inventing to achieve, if painting children is your goal.

Among Chinese brush painters, there are some who do it best. The work of Zhou Sicong (1939=1996) comes to mind. I’ve yet to acquire a book of her work, but luckily a member of one of my Facebook art groups posted examples, and I now know a name for my watch list.


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To paint children, there are some basic anatomical insights an artist must have. You can likely find a few books in any art section of a library that detail such differences for people painting in any medium.

Here are a few from my art bookshelf:


Among the tips to know:

–Children generally have larger foreheads than adults; a child’s eyebrows should present at the (vertical) halfway mark on a facial oval, whereas an adult’s eyes will fall at that line.

–Youngster’s eyes are usually rounder and larger than those of an adult

–Adult bodies are realistically about 7 ½ x heads tall, but for centuries artists have drawn them closer to ‘eight heads tall’ to enhance the appearance. (And we thought airbrushing was a new phenomenon!)

My recent studies:

Armed with a new paintbrush-pen and several printouts of the Zhou Sicong compositions I first filled several pages of a sketchbook getting familiar with the cherubic facial features:


Then I tried a few with ink and colors:




These were all done with a concentrated effort to get the head proportions ‘right’, so much so that I merely ‘roughed in’ the setting details.  Now is the time to go back and complete one with full attention to all aspects…but I just tripped over some wrapping paper from a dollar store that is calling my name.  Looks like Hokusai sketches.  The children may have to wait.





Posted in children, Chinese Brush Painting, painting figures | 2 Comments

To art room, to art room… to paint a fat pig

You may have noticed that not too many general CBP instruction books offer direction on painting the pig—this, despite the pig (or boar) being one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. Several of my books offer directions for “popular” zodiac animals, but exclude the domestic pig (Sus domesticus) and cousin wild boar (Sus scrofa).

The good news is that once you’ve mastered some line-drawing skills using brush and ink, and maybe painting wet-in-wet for body markings (or dry brush if you want that look) you can indeed paint pigs. You just have to learn some of the anatomical requirements: large head on an elongated body, snout, four-toed hooves, floppy triangular ears.

With a pig year fast approaching—2019—I’ve been considering porcine compositions.


My stock of zodiac-inspired cards is down to just these three. The one in the middle was inspired by artist Cheng Shifa who painted a lot of domestic farm animals.


The one book in my CBP library that does address pig painting in some detail (The Beginner’s Guide to Chinese Painting Farm Animals and Pets by Mei Ruo) also introduced me to an all new breed of pig, the Panda Pig or Liang Tou Wu.

I guessed this species unique to China was named because it has body markings similar to the panda. Sure enough, Mei Ruo explains it commonly has black hair on the neck and on the rear, hence its name Liang Tou Wu, which means “two ends are black”.

Mei Ruo offers numerous tips for rendering attractive piggy paintings:

–strive to capture its unique body features—short stubby legs, rounded body, floppy ears—with thick-thin outlining and contrasting shades of ink.

exaggerate the mouth and eyes to suggest more of a grin, thus enhancing the facial features.

–pigs, oxen and goats are all cloven-hooved; the pig has four pointy toes on each foot with the two front ones touching the ground and the back ones lift up slightly.

consider angles when defining body parts: the ears are triangular, the side-view of the head is a large isosceles triangle, and the head viewed head-on appears more hexagon-like than rounded.

–in keeping with the principle that ‘foreground objects are painted with dark ink and background objects with lighter ink’ Mei suggests defining the front end of the pig in dark ink and lightening the ink towards the rear end in order to establish depth within the painting.

–because the pig symbolizes good luck, it should be painted with a smile.

He offers detailed directions for painting the panda pig in freehand style, explaining positioning and shaping of body parts. This old farm girl needed little help with the anatomy, but I did appreciate the reminder to use my thick-thin outlining more effectively.

Here are some of my studies from this afternoon:



I’ve tried to put in the ‘panda’ markings with dry brush.


Here I used wet-in-wet brushwork to define the ‘two-ends-black’ markings on fat pigs.


I considered a comp showing pigs herded by a young child, based on an online photo; I simplified photo elements but didn’t get the pigs fat enough to resemble panda pigs. These look more like wild pigs and the child is not oriental-looking.

These two sketches held more promise as new piggy cards:

From three years ago I remembered this fun composition of three piglets in a basket which I’d left unfinished; it was painted based on Mei’s directions:


Pushing the two boy/herder sketches ahead with coloring I produced these:

I like both comps, but may have ruined the one on the left with the grounding. (It is too dark.)  His pigs are a little too ‘sketchy’ as well.  The one on the right looks more promising for a card.

Just after I finished these pig studies, a chance discovery of a terracotta pig in a local thrift store sent me back to the art room.  Surely this lovely critter will lead to some worthy pig paintings!  I’ve put out a request to the grandkids for a suitable name.






Posted in Chinese Brush Painting, painting pig | 2 Comments