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Rules of Painting

"See the great in the small”


“See the small in the perspective of the great”


“Among those who study painting, some strive for an elaborate effect and others prefer the simple.Neither complexity in itself nor simplicity is enough.

Some aim to be deft, others to be laboriously careful.Neither dexterity nor conscientiousness is enough.

Some set great value on method, while others pride themselves on dispensing with method.To be without method is deplorable, but to depend entirely on method is worse.

You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards, modify them according to your intelligence and capacity.The end of all method is to seem to have no method.”


Lu Ch'ai(Wang Kai), Master of Ch'ing Tsai T'ang, XVII-century


...If you aim to dispense with method, learn method

...if you aim at facility, work hard

...If you aim for simplicity, master complexity.


Lu Ch'ai(Wang Kai), Master of Ch'ing Tsai T'ang, XVII-century


The Six Qualities of Painting

To display brushstroke power with good brushwork control

To posses sturdy simplicity with refinement of true talent

To possess delicacy of skill with vigor of execution.

To exhibit originality, even to the point of eccentricity, without violating the li(the principles or essence) of things.

In rendering space by leaving the silk or paper untouched, to be able nevertheless to convey nuances of tone.

On the flatness of the picture plane, to achieve depth and space.


"Lu Ch'ang",


quoted from an early XI-century work of biographies of painters of the Five Dynasties and Northern Sung Periods.


The Twelve Things to Avoid in Painting

To avoid is a crowded, ill arranged composition (composition)

Far and near not clearly distinguished (composition)

Mountains without Ch’i, the pulse of life

Referring not only to the need for pictorial vitality created by composition with a quality of spirit, particularly since mountains were symbols of life. Of the Yang(of Heaven and the Spirit)

Water with no indication of its source

The element regarded as a source of life and associated with the Yin.

Scenes lacking any places made inaccessible by nature(natural and logical)

Where man has ventured, paths are a sign of his presence and should naturally lead somewhere.

Paths with no indication of beginning and end

Stones and rocks with one face

The rock has 3 faces, referring to the third dimension and technical skill in rendering it .

Trees with less than four main branches

The tree has four main branches and is represented as having solidity, roundness, and unity

Figures unnaturally distorted

Emphasize fitness based on naturalness, contributing to the harmony of the parts and the whole of a painting.Figures not only should be undistorted but should be shown in action, their position and mood in tune with the rest of the painting and thus with the order of nature.

Buildings and pavilions inappropriately placed

Houses, pavilions, bridges, waterwheels, or boats, never overshadow other elements in the picture but contribute to its main theme, usually some aspect of nature rather than of human activity.

Atmospheric effects of mist and clearness neglected

Color applied without method

Mountains and water are not only the main structural elements in a landscape painting, but serve as symbols of the Yin and Yang.They are structural ideas, hence the significance of the term ShanShui (mountain water) for landscape pictures.


"Shih Erh Chi",


quoted from a XIII-century work by Jao Tzu-jan.


This article was published on Monday 16 March, 2009.
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