#ArtKnowItAll: Ink Wash Painting


So for this month’s #ArtKnowItAll, I’ve decided to do something a little different. So far I’ve only covered ‘Western’ art movements that I’m familiar with, but today we’re going to be looking at Ink Wash Painting, a beautiful East Asian type of brush painting. I hope you guys like it!





What is Ink Wash Painting?

As I mentioned, Ink Wash Painting is a type of brush painting which uses the same black ink that is used for East Asian calligraphy. It originated in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and was refined during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). For centuries, this sophisticated form of Chinese art was practiced by highly educated scholars or literati. Shortly after China discovered the ink, this style began to develop in Korea and the rest of East Asia.

Key Features

  • To create the ink for their paintings, artists would grind an inkstick (usually a combination of pine or oil soot and animal glue) over an inkstone with a few drops of water. Prepared inks were also used, though they were of lower quality.
  • Traditionally, ink wash paint brushes were made from bamboo with animal hair tapered to a fine point, which was essential for this style of painting. I’m not going to go into the list of animal hair they used, but let’s just say it ranged from goat and horse to boar and wolf!
  • What makes Ink wash painting so stunning is it’s use of tonality and shading achieved by varying ink density and pressure within a single brushstroke. As a result, artists must spend years perfecting their basic brush stroke techniques. A true master can create an incredible range of tonality in a single stroke. A huge amount of concentration is needed for this painting, especially since once a stroke is painted, it can’t be erased or changed.
  • Interestingly, the majority of landscape paintings depict imaginary scenes or at least loose interpretations of reality. Mountains which were famous for their beauty but often located nowhere near the artist, were commonly featured in ink wash art.
Three Artists
  • Bada Shanren (born Zhu Da, 1626—1705) was a Chinese painter and calligrapher of noble lineage. He was a descendant of the Ming dynasty prince Zhu Quan and a leading artist of his time. Sharp brush strokes were a distinctive charactaristic of his paintings, probably due to his sideways manner of holding his paintbrush.
  • Jang Seung-eop (1843–1897),often known by his pen name Owon, was a Korean artist of the late Joseon Dynasty and one of the rare painters to hold a position of rank at court. He grew up as an orphan and first began truly painting in his twenties when he was taken in by a rich aristocrat. His paintings later received wide recognition and he painted in all genres of the period from landscapes and flower paintings to representations of daily life.
  • Okuhara Seiko (1837-1913) was a female Japanese painter who established a respected reputation as an artist, adapting Chinese literati styles to Japanese tastes. Despite her gender, she managed to build a successful art career in the largely male-dominated world of painting in 19th and 20th century East Asia. Aware of her disadvantage as woman, she changed her name from Setsuko to gender-neutral Seiko and omitted the the feminine character ‘joshi’ in her signatures, like many female artists of the time. 
In actual fact, East Asian ink wash painting is really a form of expressionistic art. It’s aim is not to simply reproduce what we see, but to capture what is unseen – the ‘spirit’ of the subject. For example, if an ink wash painter wishes to paint an animal, they must have a strong understanding of its temperament more so than its anatomy. Rather than creating totally realistic imitations, artists strive to convey emotion, perception, sensation.
I can honestly say that this is my favourite #ArtKnowItAll art form so far. Not only is the art truly beautiful (in my opinion, anyway) but I also love the philosophy behind it. As you can see below, I attempted a few quick paintings with my brush pen (the featured image above the title was unfortunately not painted by me – I don’t know who the artist was but it’s lovely! ). I think I definitely need a bit of practice… maybe in a few years I’ll be accepted into literati school 😉
ink 1.jpg
Let me know in the comments below or tweet me using #ArtKnowItAll what art movement you’d like to see next month. Enjoy the rest of your week!


ink 5.jpg





  1. traveltroubletamy · May 8, 2016

    I loved your article!
    Beautiful pictures and a wide range of different information. This special type of painting has always fascinated me and it is truly an art. Thanks for the insight that you gave us on that topic!


  2. wanghui138138 · May 4, 2016

    Really gorgeous – used to have a teacher in China who’d do this live in front of us! Truly an art.


    • maya · May 7, 2016

      Wow, that must have been amazing! I’m so jealous 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Susan Halloran · May 3, 2016

    Absolutely gorgeous!

    Liked by 1 person

    • maya · May 4, 2016

      Thank you!


  4. Pingback: #ArtKnowItAll: Ink Wash Painting – Running to Zen
  5. trainofthought · May 3, 2016

    Wow! These look stunning. Ink wash Painting seems really fun but tricky.


  6. Isabella El-Hasan · May 3, 2016

    this is a lovely idea! great paintings you made too. Have you ever explored West African Art? Today the Biennale of Contemporary Art has just started in Dakar, Senegal. Have a look at the sandpaintings they do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVxQGluXQqw


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