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Four Gentlemen: Bamboo – painting techniques from Mustard Seed Garden – 兰竹梅菊 : 竹 zhú

Part of a series of articles on painting techniques from ‘Mustard Seed Garden’ manual and encyclopedia of chinese painting.

Cover Picture

Zheng BanQiao Bamboo

Cover pictures by master of bamboo painting and calligraphy Zheng BanQiao 郑板桥 (artistic name of 鄭燮 Zheng Xie), 1693–1765. He is probably the most famous artist who specializes in painting bamboos. He even created his own very unique style of calligraphy.

Inkston Notes

Bamboo has played an important role in Chinese culture. See inkston article on the Bamboo sea and watch out for the second article on Bamboo painting.

It is not easy to paint bamboo well. It needs a lot of patience and practice. Here are some principles extracted from the Manual of Mustard Seed Garden.

Bamboo Stems

The stem of the Bamboo is like a pole composed of many sections or segments and each segment is separated by special bamboo joints. Observing closely, you will find that the top of bamboo has shorter segments, the middle has longer segments, and closer to the roots the segments are shorter again. Therefore, you should reflect this variation in the painting.

Joints and leaves:

Chinese characters: The bamboo joints are like a powerful circle with a shape of  Chinese character ‘心’, which means heart in English, without those 3 dots. You can try to practice writing this Chinese character. There are also two basic structures which can be represented by Chinese characters for bamboo leaves: 个, and 人. Therefore, it would be very helpful for you to practice these three Chinese characters.

Bamboo leaves:

  • When painting bamboo leaves, please choose a brush which can hold a lot of water.
  • Do not be hesitant when painting. Paint the leaves confidently with one neat stroke, passing the strength from your arm to the bamboo leaves via your brush.
  • Observe closely both the natural bamboos and the representations by famous artists such as Zheng Banqiao.
  • The painting is expressed entirely by changing shades of black. Therefore, it is very useful to practice ‘ 5 blackness’ (also see how Chinese artist Wang ZiRang talks about ‘five colours of ink’ 墨粉五彩).

All in all, it might seem easy to paint bamboo. Nevertheless, to paint bamboo well needs a lot of practice and knowledge. It is not surprising that some experienced artists might fail on painting bamboos. Observe and analyse the real bamboos. You can also refer to inkston’s bamboo sea album.

Now, put together your tools and start your first serious bamboo painting!


Mustard Seed Garden Video tutorial by Chinese artist Wu Peng 吴蓬, who was born in 1941 and currently researcher of Shanghai Calligraphy and Painting Institute. He is especially famous for calligraphy (Oracle) and flower paintings.

【芥子园画谱技法讲座】 18(二)兰竹梅菊(05 06)竹


Related pictures from the Mustard Seed Garden book.

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Materials for Painting Bamboo

Materials are simple: brushes (combo hair brush, wool brush), black ink, raw Xuan paper.

If you want to paint such Bamboos, you can choose high grade oil soot inkstickcombo hair brush and wool (goat hair) brush, and inkston 3338 Xuan paper, Extra Fine 6575 Xuan Paper.

For Zheng BanQiao style calligraphy, all the inkston handmade Xuan papers are suitable. Inkston also has made a special Xuan paper for calligraphy. The special percentage combination of raw materials and of processing methods make this paper perfect for calligraphy.


Bamboo Design

Our ceramic artists have created a series of beautiful bamboo-inspired ceramics and we also have some nice bamboo fans for your own painting.

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