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Signature in an artwork

We know that the oriental artworks are often a combination of the painting, calligraphy, poetry and seals. When looking at a piece of painting, it will be clear that the main part of the painting is the images, but it will not be so clear when looking at the calligraphy on the artworks – we cannot identify the function of these characters directly without certain background knowledge, because some many be the title, some may be a poem, and others may be the signature. Let us focus on the signature today, and after this post you will know more about signing your own works!

Flower Bird Painting, Fiona Sheng

Above is an artwork I recently created, and on the top left side there is a line of writing that consists of the title and the signature. The simple way to tell the title and the signature apart would be by the size of them. The larger characters are usually the title, which is followed by the signature. Sometimes the title and signature section go horizontally, and in which case it is important to know how to read (assuming you can read Chinese characters) them.

Traditionally the writings follow the direction of Top-Bottom, Right-Left. So when reading the writings on a piece of oriental artwork, ancient and modern, the correct starting point would be the most top right side. In the past book pages also follow this order, which is still the case nowadays in Japanese manga! Even though in the modern Chinese texts the writing direction has switched to the same as in English, the traditional art still follow the traditional ways, so the characters are written in the old direction and in traditional Chinese characters, not the simplified ones.

Calligraphy, Qi Gong, Photo from the internet

Focusing on the signature alone, it is normal to only have the name written down, which can often be 1-4 characters long, and sometimes we add a character “書” behind it, meaning “xxx wrote”, but this character alone means both to write and the word for book. Other than signing short names, it is also very common to sign the purpose of the artwork or the year before the name. In the first painting in this post, you can see the title-year-name style, and in the photo above it states the purpose and then the name. This way the length and meaning of the signature is adjustable, fitting to the artwork.

When signing with the year, which is the most common signature style, the year should be signed in the traditional way, which means instead of writing “2022”, we write “壬寅年” instead, the way it was supposed to be in the Stem-Branches or Ganzhi system, also known as the sexagenary cycle. This is an ancient and long-surviving recording system that was common in the Eastern Asia, but its application can barely be seen other than in artworks anymore. As stated in the name of this system, it repeats every 60 years, and that means the same name of the year comes back once every 60 years.

Flower Bird Painting, Song Hui Zong, (example of a very short signature)

So how do we get the 60 year cycle? We have 10 stems and 12 branches, and we match them according to certain orders. These heavenly stems, written as 甲乙丙丁戊己庚辛壬癸, their functions are just like numbers 1-10, indicating an order; the earthly branches are animals, the same animals for the zodiacs, and they are 子丑寅卯辰巳午未申酉戌亥, each referring to an animal. It is worth noting that these character cannot be used to refer to the animal directly, they are associated to the animals only. Every other character from the top line matches with every other character from the bottom line, and then we have the complete chart of exactly 60 matchings:

甲子乙丑丙寅丁卯戊辰己巳庚午辛未壬申癸酉
甲戌乙亥丙子丁丑戊寅己卯庚辰辛巳壬午癸未
甲申乙酉丙戌丁亥戊子己丑庚寅辛卯壬辰癸巳
甲午乙未丙申丁酉戊戌己亥庚子辛丑壬寅癸卯
甲辰乙巳丙午丁未戊申己酉庚戌辛亥壬子癸丑
甲寅乙卯丙辰丁巳戊午己未庚申辛酉壬戌癸亥

One day I will show you have to write them in correct calligraphy, but for now if you need to sign your work, you have some notes to help!

Enjoy such cultural discussions? Have comments? I look forward to hearing from you!


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Oriental landscape painting development

In the previous post we discussed the key concepts of the oriental landscape arts, how it is very much linked to our perception of the world around us; how it is a reflection of the relationship between us and nature. In this post let us dive a bit into history and briefly talk about its origin and development.

Rhapsody on Goddess of Luo, Eastern Jin Dynasty, Gu Kai Zhi

The landscape painting in the Eastern world has long and extensive history. However the very first landscape paintings are no longer available to us, the earliest copies that we can see today are from the legendary master, Gu Kai Zhi, in at least 2 of his surviving master pieces there were the landscape added to the backgrounds of the story (see the painting above). Even though serving as backgrounds, the mountains, water, forests, birds and beasts have been displayed in their entirety and vividly. During this time the landscapes were very much attached to the figure painting.

Spring Landscape, Zhan Zi Qian, Sui Dynasty

The Sui and Tang Dynasties saw the most prosperous evolution of the oriental landscape painting. Zhan Zi Qian was a leading artist from this period, and today we are still able to see his only remaining work (see the painting above). This artwork focuses on the landscape, it displayed a Spring time where people are coming out to enjoy the blooming world. He also led the trend of the green-blue style of painting.

In the Tang Dynasty the grey scale landscape received ample development. Literati scholars enjoyed this style a great deal by adding calligraphy into the painting, making the artworks poetic, creating the atmosphere where there is painting in poetry and poetry in painting.

Snow Landscape, Wang Wei, Tang Dynasty

The brief chaotic period between Tang and Song Dynasties until the Song Dynasty pushed the oriental landscape painting to its peak, the Northern and Southern styles were formed, various schools of the painting styles were established. Especially in the Southern school because of the typical Southern climate, in paintings we start to see a great number of misty scenes that we love so much today. This glorious height continued and was further developed well into the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, where a great number of landscape artists created many legacies that we treasure today.

Snow Landscape, Fiona Sheng

In our many previous courses of the landscape painting exploration, we have been taking it one step at a time, and in each course we focused on one or a few of the said aspects, but now you are ready for more, so in this Snow Landscape Course:

  • We will discuss and focus on the usage of the 5 shades of ink
  • You will learn about the 2 main ways of painting snow
  • There will be a discussion about perspectives
  • You will learn to paint a vertical landscape as shown, step by step

If you have taken the other landscape courses including the round and rather small scale summer landscape, the tree painting, and the landscape scenery courses, then you are definitely ready for this step, which will further advance your understanding and skills in the oriental landscape painting. If you have not taken any of the other courses yet, not to worry, enjoy this snowy scenery, and you can always retrace your steps and develop your abilities in the other aspects in depth slowly.

This week the snow landscape course will come and greet you, look forward to having you there!

Enjoy such cultural discussions? Have comments? I look forward to hearing from you!


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Mindful Art, Zen Home | InkDifferent Studio

Oriental Landscape Painting

How much do you know about the oriental landscape painting? The oriental landscape painting is a reflection of the relationship between human and nature, it represents the connection between the natural world around us and our own inner spiritual world. The landscape painting takes limited amount of scenery to express our understanding of the universe, our affection towards the land that feeds us, and the society that supports us.

Landscape, Ni Zan

The landscape painting is imbedded in the general framework of water-ink painting, which is a painting style that utilises mainly ink and water to express our understanding of the relationship mentioned above. The simple play of ink could create endless charm through the layers of black, grey and white, via the fast and slow, moist and dry brush strokes.

Landscape, Fiona Sheng

The landscape painting considers the painting as an integral entity, and our focus is always on the macro aspects, which is why the ways of displaying the scenery differ so much from the landscape art in the western world. In order to not be limited by our own eyes, the ancient painters developed various techniques to compensate for the limitation of our eyes, and such technique is best known as the cavalier perspective. Forget about the fancy word for a moment here, what this technique means and does is simply allowing us to have multiple eyes when looking at, say, a mountainous scenery, so that we could see the world clearly, as if we have taken the god perspective. In painting the landscapes the ancient painters then developed other supportive techniques to best use ink and brush for the best description of these landscapes. Beyond the techniques comes what is more essential, the emotions. The emotional expression in the oriental painting is ubiquitous, however the practice required to achieve this level is demanding. In the practice it is absolutely important to set the goals right, relax the mind, and enjoy the process.

Landscape, Zhao Meng Fu
Snow Landscape, Fiona Sheng

In our many previous courses of the landscape painting exploration, we have been taking it one step at a time, and in each course we focused on one or a few of the said aspects, but now you are ready for more, so in this Snow Landscape Course:

  • We will discuss and focus on the usage of the 5 shades of ink
  • You will learn about the 2 main ways of painting snow
  • There will be a discussion about perspectives
  • You will learn to paint a vertical landscape as shown, step by step

If you have taken the other landscape courses including the round and rather small scale summer landscape, the tree painting, and the landscape scenery courses, then you are definitely ready for this step, which will further advance your understanding and skills in the oriental landscape painting. If you have not taken any of the other courses yet, not to worry, enjoy this snowy scenery, and you can always retrace your steps and develop your abilities in the other aspects in depth slowly.

This week the snow landscape course will come and greet you, look forward to having you there!

Enjoy such cultural discussions? Have comments? I look forward to hearing from you!


Related Courses


Mindful Art, Zen Home | InkDifferent Studio

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