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Four Gentlemen: Plum blossom – painting techniques from Mustard Seed Garden – 兰竹梅菊 : 梅花 méihuā

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

Plum blossoms – symbol of winter strength

Plum blossoms (梅花 méihuā) always add a very elegant touch to the cold winter when almost no flowers can survive its low temperature and harsh wind. It is exactly because of its ability to flourish at this severe weather, winter blossom is seen as a symbol of being firm and indomitable. And these precious values are regarded as essential elements for a gentleman by ancient Chinese intellectuals. Together with bamboo, orchid, and chrysanthemum, these four plants are considered as the four gentlemen in Chinese culture and probably, they are the four most important things one should learn to paint for his Chinese painting training. Here, we have organized a set of principles from the Mustard Seed Garden painting manual on how to paint winter blossom. So, get your art materials ready and join us if you are into this subject!

5 principles of painting plum blossoms

Syringa oblata (early lilac)
  • Position: the position of winter blossom petals are similar to this Syringa oblata (early flowering lilac). The petals seem to grow directly from the branch and each petal overlaps with its neighbours. Each petal seems to convey the spirit that the winter blossom is using all its strength and courage to fight against the bad weather.
  • Ying and Yang composition: the winter blossoms should be placed thus: small and big, strong and weak, fresh and old blossoms should be combined in a natural arrangement. For example, if there is a fading flower, there should be some flourishing flowers next it.
  • Connections: each petal is sort of combined like the shape of Chinese character ‘丁’ or three dots in the same position of this character. Each dot is one petal and each dot/ petal are connected but not attached to each other.
  • Four directions: this means that each petal points in a different direction and that no flower has two petals pointing in the same direction.
  • Neither pointed nor sharp: the petal is painted freehand and a perfect petal should neither be round nor sharp. This sounds easy but does require a lot of practice till you can confidently paint a petal with one natural stroke which makes a perfect blossom petal shape. In Chinese, sometimes this is referred as ‘ make sure each petal stands out humbly while eye-catching’.

Plum Blossom Paintings by Wang Mian

Wang Mian 王冕, 1287 – 1359 Yuan dynasty, was a famous Chinese painter and poem in Chinese history. He is especially famous for his ink blossom paintings. And inkston adores his spectacular skills on painting ink plum blossoms. Here we share some of his art works.  

Instructional Video

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】 20(二)兰竹梅菊(09 10)梅

Pictures from Mustard Seed Garden



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