Barnyard Birds 3: Hen

My children loved the story of the little red hen.  The folk tale illustrates many good life lessons about independence, industriousness, and planning ahead for rainy days. I have read that tale from the same little book to children and grandchildren at least a hundred times apiece.  The story is great, but the illustrations are quite stylized and hokey.  If only the artist had studied Chinese brush painting!

Having explored both chicks and roosters as CBP subjects it seems logical to address the hen next. My preconceptions were that hens are rather ordinary, triangular-shaped birds with beaks and combs for interest, maybe variations in feather work.  Then I poked through my art books and had some pleasant discoveries.

Symbolism plus:

“The hen drives away evil spirits” attests Jane Dwight in her CBP Bible.  She relates a Chinese legend that says two hens existed at the beginning of time, one black and one white.  They each laid nine eggs and from that evolved the good and bad people of the world.

In Learn to Paint Chinese Brush (a composition of a hen and her mate are right on the cover) Jane Evans tells us the clucking of a hen symbolizes female power within the home.  I ponder that for a bit in light of the western view of women fussing in the kitchen or with kids as ‘being mother hens’.

I discovered a few more chicken idioms before not heard: stuffing chicken feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken, the difference between involvement and commitment is seen in a ham-n-eggs breakfast—the chicken was ‘involved’ but the pig was ‘committed’, and ‘that just flaps my wattles’. Some more good chicken idioms are compiled here:


1.  Jane Dwight’s Bible of Chinese Brush Painting

2.  Jane Evan’s Learn to Paint Chinese Brush

3.  Chan Kam Wai’s great book I used for chicks and roosters—Methods of Drawing Chickens in Chinese Brush Painting

Sequence for painting hens:

1.  Beak and eye

2.  Head (their combs and wattles are smaller than on roosters)

3.  Chest and body

4.  Legs

Techniques for feathers:

From Chan Kam Wai’s methods book I learn several treatments for conveying bird feathers on the bodies of hens.

In my first effort I had difficulty with proportions, getting heads too big for the bodies. I liked the effect on the Barred Rock hen (black and white ‘speckled’ hen) and quickly realized the plain brown hens made good backdrops for the others.

HenFeathers_0002  HenFeathers

Once I had grasped the chicken shapes and parts, I soon had a flock across the page.  Afternoons when the brushstrokes go as planned, the ink doesn’t run amok, and time stands still…. those are the best. I’ve been shaping the brush more after loading and removing more wet from the heel of the loaded brush than in the past, and this seems to reduce the unwanted ‘runs’.

HenFeathers_0003 HenFeathers_0004

While leaving my hens to dry I flipped through other art books and discovered a composition by contemporary artist Shan Bai Qin showing a hen sitting on a clutch of eggs which I had to try.  I am still not satisfied with proportions but the subject material is fun.


That seemed a good final ‘lesson’ on hen.

This entry was posted in Chinese Brush Painting, how to paint birds, painting chicken. Bookmark the permalink.

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