Hands-On Learning: Asian Brush Painting

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Seventh Graders at Hall Middle School 
deepened their understanding of Chinese and Japanese culture through an introduction to the art of Asian brush painting.
Tools have remained the same over the centuries: Rice Paper (Shue), Sumi Ink, and soft-bristled bamboo brushes. Students learned the proper technique to hold the brush, how to use pressure and movements to create marks varying from light to dark, fine lines to broad. Students then experimented with brush strokes, practicing strong lines, soft lines, spontaneous marks, and dry brush techniques.
Bamboo is primarily a Chinese subject, a simple shape but complex to paint, with harmony and joyous freedom. Students observed actual bamboo branches, and then learned the techniques to paint the subject in detail: the segments, the strong center stalk, fine thin branches, and graceful foliage.
Students were able to explore the development of Chinese and Japanese landscape painting and its influences through history. They observed how the Eastern ideal of perspective is different from our Western view 
(Flatter and more vertical). Students studied the works of various masters, both Japanese and Chinese, and learned the value of recording your world by painting what you see, and seeing the beauty in our own back yard. Using black watercolors on Japanese mulberry paper, students then created landscapes of Mt. Tamalpais in the style of a Japanese Sumi- e painter. They began by practicing circles, paying careful attention to breathing and thought before the brush touches the paper.
Learning to use a brush in a new way, practicing a variety of lines, practicing control of the brush, the freedom to be found when the brush is moving quickly, practicing spontaneity and celebrating beauty: sometimes it was hard to remain standing and hold our bamboo brushes upright as the masters were taught.

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