Materials for Brush Painting - The Four Treasures


The four most essential materials used for Chinese brush painting are so precious they are often referred to as treasures. When you mention "The Four Treasures" Chinese people will immediately know that you are talking about the brush, ink stick, ink stone, and paper.


Typical Chinese brushes are made with handles of bamboo, and bristles of either sheep, goat, rabbit, wolf, or horse hair. A very soft brush may be used for painting birds or flowers or doing calligraphy. A rough haired brush may be used for painting mountains or bamboo. New brushes need to be soaked for a few minutes in cold water to remove the glue. When brushes are not in use they should either be stored in a flat brush holder or suspended from the loop on the handle.

Ink Stick

The solid ink stick is used to produce ink by rubbing it against the ink stone with a few drops of water. Ink sticks are made of pine soot, musk and other aromatics such as vegetable oil. Sometimes they are decorated with pictures and poems and gilded by well-known artists. A high quality ink stick should have a glossy black sheen and pleasant fragrance.

Ink Stone

The ink stone is made of a smooth and fine grained stone such as slate. Most ink stones for painting are square with a deep circular well, and a cover. To make ink, pour a small amount of water into the stone. Dip the ink stick in vertically and grind it with a smooth circular motion. This should be done in a slow and calm manner. The process of grinding the ink enables the artist to quiet the heart and empty the mind, and thus get into the proper mood for painting. For those who don't have the time to grind ink, bottled liquid ink is also available.


The final treasure is paper. Most people refer to Chinese painting paper as rice paper, which is actually a misnomer. The paper is not really made of rice. It is made of the fibres of different kinds of plants and the bark of a special kind of tree mixed with rice straw. It is white, smooth in texture and highly absorbent. Good quality paper is often called "honest". It will show every brush stroke you make and not allow you to hide any mistakes.