This page analyses a painting of Shitao (石濤), explains the steps in copying, and shows colouring techniques in depicting the painting in different seasons.

Analysing the painting

It is believed that most Chinese artists do not do plein air painting, ie painting outdoors on real landscape. They memorize the landscape, patterns on rocks, appearances of the trees and create paintings indoors out of their memory and imagination.

Shitao (石濤)(1642–1707) travelled widely among the mountains. His paintings on the Huangshan (Yellow Mountains 黄山) show likeness to the actual landscape. But he might also have taken the liberty of merging a few scenes together to make a vertical panorama on a long hanging scroll. This is indeed a kind of innovation. If the landscape is painted to its true likeness, the painting may not be better than a modern day photograph.

The following is a painting of Shitao.

The painting can be divided into three parts: the front-scene, middle-scene and back-scene.

The front-scene contains four large trees which have leaves of different shapes. These variations make the painting interesting. The trees grow on the shore among the rocks. Under the trees lie two houses. Only the roof is shown in one of them. Behind the houses are hills in the middle-scene. The location of the houses on solid ground, facing the water and backed by the hills has a sense of stability and tranquillity

The empty space on the right hand side in middle-scene depicts water. It may be a lake or a river. The bridge leads the viewer to imagine the landscape continues on to the right. This does not just stop on the edge of the paper.

The back-scene shows the majestic mountains. The two distant mountains which just comprise pale grey wash without details depict the landscape goes far beyond the scene.


Steps in copying the painting

Painting the trees in 3 steps

Draw the trees in the front-scene first as follows:

(1) Draw the trunk – the major trunk has to be fixed to the proper position at the first hand

(2) Add branches accordingly. Branches to be stretched out from the trunk. Most of the branches grow like deer’s horns (abatis).

(3) Add leaves, the shapes of leaves differ from each other according to their different classes. The sizes also vary depending on which part on the tree they grow.


Painting the rocks in 5 steps

(1) Outline and divide the rocks into phases (勾)

(2) Add shading (ts’un / cun / searing) (皴). There are a few different types of ts’un, the ts’un we use in this painting is called hemp-fibre ts’un (披麻皴).

(3) Rub with dry brush (擦) to create rough or rugged lines or curves

(4) Add dots (點) on top of the rocks or on the sides of the rock

(5) Colour-in or stain (染) the trees and rocks / hills with colour or with pale ink of various shades





Colouring-in techniques

The original painting by Shitao is ink painting, with no colours. We can take the liberty of adding some colours onto it. Colours may hide the imperfections of the brush strokes.

Autumn scene

To depict an autumn scene, we can colour the rocks and hills mostly with ochre / brown (赭石) (Maries’s Chinese Painting Colour 684).

The top part of the rock with cyan / blue (花青)( Maries’s Chinese Painting Colour 495).

The leaves with with cyan / blue (花青)( Maries’s Chinese Painting Colour 495).

Autumn leaves with orange (硃磦) ( Maries’s Chinese Painting Colour 399) and yellow (藤黄) ( Maries’s Chinese Painting Colour 218).



Spring and summer scene

To depict spring and summer scene, we can colour the rocks and hills as follows:

The base of the rock with ochre / brown (赭石) (Maries’s Chinese Painting Colour 684).

Most of the rock with opaque green / light green (石綠) ( Maries’s Chinese Painting Colour 593) (Pelikan gouache 144)

Add to the top part of the rock opaque blue / cerulean blue (石青)( Maries’s Chinese Painting Colour 493)( (Pelikan gouache 123)

To enhance the beauty of light green, an uneven tint of sap green (a combination of blue and yellow) can be added onto the rock.

About Shitao (石濤)

Shitao (石濤)(1642–1707) was one of the most influential Chinese landscape artists in early Qing Dynasty.

Born in Guangxi (廣西) province, Shitao was a member the Ming Dynasty imperial clan. He narrowly avoided catastrophe in 1644 when the Ming Dynasty fell to invading Manchus. He became a Buddhist monk so as to avoid prosecution. Throughout the 1680s he lived in Nanjing (南京) and Yangzhou (揚州). He travelled widely and loved painting landscape. He did lots and lots of sketching. His use of washes and bold impressionistic brushstrokes were innovative. He used white space skilfully to suggest distance and the vastness of nature. In 1693 he converted to Daoism. He died in 1707 but his legacy lives on.


This page is dedicated to my students in WAC who share the fun and joy of landscape painting with me.