Japanese Painting Lesson


In Japanese painting, artists use pigments from nature, washi(Japanese paper) and haku(gold or silver leaf) along with other materials and techniques. The main idea is usually about the exploration of spirit found in nature, but modern scenes can also be found.

1.First lesson, stretch the paper on board, use watercolour or gouache to paint (Oil painting is no good because of the thickness)

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2.Second week, use washi to soften or strengthen the image, with only paints, the whole body could be too bright and lacks depth, using other materials to support the balance of the image seems to be important in Japanese painting.

Use of Washi: the washi that we used is named ‘Tengucho-shi’, cow skin glue were used to apply them on the images

Use of Haku: it was my first time to use golden and silver leaves, fragile things; but it has a quality to brighten the whole image

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3. Third Lesson, using Sulfur to create images. I’ve never relate Sulfur(with fungicide) with art practice, but it actually creates amazing effect on images. Sulfur can only react on haku(probably other metal as well) under 80 degrees temp, the reaction of time decides the colour that haku is going to be in the end

1-2 seconds →red / 2-4 seconds →blue/ >5 seconds→black or grey




4. Fourth lesson, the finishing work. take the masking tape off, as well as adding lines to enrich the image.

The final images.


After making the four images, we were asked to do a collage out of them. The collage has to contain an element from Choju Giga(The earliest comic in Japanese history).It’s a task more difficult than I thought, in terms of balancing the colours and composition, which is deeply referring to Japanese traditional aesthetics. The whole process took three lessons to complete.


The third part was to transfer our collage into a real Japanese painting. We learnt about pigments in this lesson, the traditional pigments are made from natural stones like Malachite(green), Lapis Lazuli(ultramarine) or Orpiment(yellow)

Although in modern Japanese painting, because of the high price, artificial pigments are widely used. In Japanese painting, the white colour has to be painted first, silver leaves are used underneath the white to make it shine. The white pigment comes from powdered calcium carbonate.

The painting hasn’t been finished yet due to the difference of exchange term time.


      Explore and paint!


      I was surprised to find that the system of things here is quite similar to Chelsea’s, with no project or brief for the third year. Tutors are in school three days a week, crit is held every month, we have to manage our own time to do projects.

      As new concepts hasn’t come to me yet, I decided to go around the forest behind school to get some inspirations. In UK, I usually get inspiration from my old work or from other artists’ concepts; but here, the ideas comes from the view I see, with less thoughts about the content behind it, comparing to the past, the work that I’m going to make is more straight forward and simple, probably more about the vision than content.

      I haven’t done a ‘proper painting’ since the university, as what I focused is the conceptual side of a work; picking up the painting brush again became difficult for me, I would hesitate how to make a straight line or how to use colours technically. But these difficulties are great leisure, doing a good painting  is never an easy thing since there is no standard for the word ‘good’. I kept questioning myself ‘ is this going to be a good painting? Does it have to be good?’ during the process of painting, self-judgement and finding an answer for myself is the aim of make these paintings, what I lack now is what I’m going to reinforce in the future. Thus, these paintings are not about the subject or colour, but my exploration and question of ‘what to paint’.

      About Seika and Kyoto

      Kyoto was formerly the imperial capital of Japan over 1000 years, now it’s still the centre of Japanese culture. With over 2000 temples and shrines from ancient times,traditional craftmanship are also preserved very well.

      What interests me the most on the first week of arrival is the Kyoto city itself, the planning of the city is almost the same as it was thousand years ago, in the city centre, the streets are all in vertical(North to South) or horizontal(East to West) directions; thus the whole city looks neat and ordered. Also, the main horizontal streets were named according to numbers from 10 to 2.

      My university for exchange—Kyoto Seika University,  lies on the north of Kyoto, has a history of over 60 years. The modern architecture is designed by the graduates from school; because of the advantage near mountains, students has more opportunities to get inspirations directly from nature and make big works in the nature


      Japanese Paper(Washi) Making Class

      PART 1

      In the elective lessons of Seika, Japanese paper making interests me the most, as the traditional paper making course is not easy to find in Western countries. Paper comes from nature, making paper can be viewed as a process of communication with nature as well.

      1.In our first lesson, recycling carbon paper were used. They were divided according to colour, so there won’t be a dirty colour for the outcome

      2.Carbons were put in a pulper with water and became a paste shape

      3.Put the paste in a paper making mold floating on water.

      4.Dry the extra water


      A piece of carbon paper is done! The chips of other colours faints in the carbon’s colour. 

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      PART 2

      In common sense, paper is flat, so I was very fond of making 3D paper sculpture. We used plaster to cast our hand first, then put the paper into plaster mode.

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      PART 3

      The material for most Japanese paper making-Kozo, English name is mulberry

      The material for most Japanese paper making-Kozo, English name is mulberry

      In advanced lesson, we were taught to make coloured paper. Instead of painting with colours on the paper, paper can be made with colours initially.

      -Prepare Kozo, which is mulberry in English, dye it with pigment

      -Dry out the extra colours to get all the colour seep into Kozo (long long process)

      -Have a layer of original Kozo, a layer of glue(made from taro), and the coloured layer

      The two layers of a paper

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