Posted on Leave a comment

Flower Heads – painting techniques from Mustard Seed Garden

Cover Photo: peach blossom and willow branches 桃花柳枝, by Yun ShouPing. Check Ancient Chinese Flower Paintings by Yun Shou Ping 恽寿平 for more of his art works. 

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

After our previous Mustard Seed Manual posts about how to paint flowers, this post has quite a few examples on how to paint flowers with the techniques you have learned from our previous posts. To be specific, in this post, you will see how to apply your techniques to paint narcissus, lotus, morning glory, big leaf hydrangea, wisteria flower, and rhododendra.

Skills to review:

paint fine lines with detailed gongbi brush and white cloud brush. In our previous post on Floral Composition, we talked about a technique called ‘strength goes through the paper’.

  • 力透纸背 literally it means ‘strength goes through the paper’. When talking about painting or calligraphy, it actually means that you have to control the brush well enough to pass your strength via brush to the paper and this technique helps the line to be powerful and beautiful. For example, when painting animal claws, we are always asked to do a sketch with brush and black ink. The sketch is small but it could make people feel the claws are vivid and strong. Of course, good quality paper will also help reach such effects. This technique is very important for calligraphers.

Video Clip Map:

Narcissus, Zhao Zi Gu, 24.6 * 26.0 cm, painted on silk, Song Dynasty, 960 – 1279.

9:35, narcissus. 

Start painting from pollen. When painting leaves, we change to big brush: white cloud brush would be good.

Brushes: gongbi detail or small weasel 0603Ws, white cloud.


  • pearl white, when apply colours, please avoid black lines. Then use malachite and gamboge yellow to make light green. Use this green to add a bit colour on the white petals.
  • cinnabar red and gamboge to make orange. This is for the pollen.
  • eosin red.
  • mix Gamboge yellow plant colour and ochre brown to decorate leaves.

18:55, lotus

Use big white cloud brush to paint lines. This can be a bit difficult for beginners to control. Our recommendation would be try to practice for a while with your big white cloud brush till you are used to its size. And then you can try to start painting lines.

Colours: first use pearl white to paint all the petals. When the pearl white paint is still moist, use light eosin red to paint lines on petals.

Gamboge yellow plant colour plus ochre brown and a little bit black ink for the pollen.

For flower stalk, you can mix malachite green mineral colour and Gamboge yellow plant colour and ochre brown.

Use Gamboge yellow plant colour plus pearl white to make light yellow to paint dots with detailed gongbi brush or long/ pointed brush.

荷花 Lotus flower

26:50, morning glory

Use 0903ws gongbi detail weasel brush to paint fine lines. Then use white cloud brush to paint flowers.

Colour: indigo plant colour, pearl white. First use indigo plant colour to paint all the petals. When the indigo colour is still moist, use white to paint from inside out. Use a bit more water.

Gamboge yellow plant colour plus pearl white for pollen.

Gamboge yellow plant colour plus indigo to make grass green for leaves.

Use a lot of water, then paint from inside out.

31:35, big leaf hydrangea

Brush: use big white cloud to paint lines.

Colour: use pearl white to paint the base while avoiding the black lines.

Gamboge yellow plant colour, indigo, malachite green: add a bit decorative colours on the petals.

36:10, wisteria flower


Brush: use big white cloud.

Colour: Indigo plus Carthamin safflower rouge red plant colour to make nice purple. (more indigo than rouge). Add a bit pearl white. Then you can get very elegant natural purple colour.

43:45, rhododendra

Colour: eosin red with a lot of water.

Red add a bit light black to make it dark red.

Use thick pearl white add with Gamboge plant colour to make light yellow. Then add this light yellow to paint pollen while the red paint is still moist.

Colour Tips:

Please review our Inkston Chinese Painting Colour Chart to review some basic ways to mix colours. Also, to understand better how Chinese water-based natural pigments functions, please refer to the introduction article on Chinese Colours. The pigments used for this session include: pearl white, malachite green, ochre brown, red, eosin red, Carthamin safflower rouge red, Gamboge yellow plant colour, cinnabar red, indigo plant colour, pine soot black ink.

Brushes needed:

Like almost all the flower tutorials we have posted so far, weasel gongbi detail brush and white cloud brushes are used in this session too. In fact, these two types of brushes are probably two of the most widely used brushes for Chinese flower/ bird paintings. In our previous issues, you can find our article on how to choose painting brush.

Xuan Papers:

You can choose any of our Xuan papers made for flower/ bird paintings. Besides raw/ un-cooked Xuan papers, it would be interesting to also try half-cooked and cooked Xuan papers. 🙂 If you are not beginner any more, please choose the Xuan paper type which suits you most. You can refer to our Inkston Xuan Paper Buyer’s Guide which helps you select Xuan papers.


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 (including oracle bone script) and flower paintings.

【芥子园画谱技法讲座】 24(三)花卉翎毛(01 02)草本花头、藤本花头


Related pictures from the Mustard Seed Garden book.



Posted on Leave a comment
Leave a Reply