Why to paint carp? The symbolic meaning of fish in Asian Brush Painting

We get a lot of questions why so many Chinese and Japanese paintings are dedicated to the fish subject.

Let us explain for you.

Chinese culture has a very symbolic tradition, which you can also see in the fact how Chinese language developed over the last centuries from its origin in oracle bones which were used for divination by ritual specialist – people we would consider healers or magicians today. You can still understand from where Chinese language has developed when you look at the fact that nowadays Chinese language uses symbols as opposed to Western languages where the letters just represent a way to define sounds and spoken words.

Because of this tradition, Chinese language is a lot about wordplay or riddles. The Chinese word for fish (鱼/yú) sounds very similar to the character (裕/ yù) in the word chōngyù (充裕) which means plentiful or abundant. Thus the fish has become a symbol for wealth in Chinese culture.

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Where to buy a Chinese Carved Seal?

When it comes to seal carving, getting to understand and know the basic principles is pretty easy. When you want a really nice seal that fits your personality you should either have more experience in the art of carving or find a seal carver of your trust. Chinese and Japanese seal carving is about both – understanding and mastering the technique itself, but then it is his eye for the stone and experience that defines a master seal carver.

If you live in China, there are many seal carvers in every city. But those seal carvers that are a master of their trade have a strong reputation in the community of calligraphy and brush painting artists – many painters and calligraphers come a long way to make sure that their stone which will be the signature with which they give their artworks the final touch – will be created by a real master.

What makes a real master?

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Is there a Calligraphy Brush that is made of goat and wolf hair?

Yes, there is. Many calligraphy as well as Sumi brushes are so-called mixed hair or compound hair brushes.
Such mixed hair brushes combine the characteristics of a traditional hard-hair brush (such as wulf hair brushes, horse brushes, boar hair brushes, weasel hair brushes and such) with a soft-hair brush. Soft hair brushes are mostly made of goat-hair.

So where is the difference between the two and what are the characteristics of a mixed-hair brush?

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How to paint a blossom in Chinese painting / with a Chinese brush?

Flower and Tree Blossoms are one of the main subjects in Oriental Brush painting – in Japanese painting – often referred to as Sumi-e but also in Chinese Painting which in Western countries is known as Ink and Wash Painting whereas the Chinese refer to it as 水墨画 (Shui Mo Hua).

Most of the traditional Eastern learning books are either dedicated to the art of creating wonderful flowers and flower petals or at least have a big section within other categories that explain how to skillfully master the painting of blossoms.

To get some inspiration, you can take a look at one of our videos where a Chinese painting master we are friends with   paints a cherry cherry blossom on a Shikishi board made of Xuan paper and a decorative outer part; you can find several of these boards in the Decorative Paper Section of our shop.



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What is Gyotaku or Fish Printing / Fish Rubbing?

Gyotaku is the Japanese Word for “Fish Rubbing” or also known as “Fish Printing”.

Gyo (魚) Taku (拓) literally translates from Chinese into English as “Fish” and “Print”. The Japanese symbol for fish – 魚 [yú] – is the same as the Chinese character for fish in traditional Chinese as it is still being practiced in Taiwan today. In simplified Chinese it looks very similar but is easier to write – 鱼. This is due to the facts that the Japanese language borrowed a lot of its characters and words from Chinese in ancient times.

Gyotaku was originally used by Japanese Fisherman to record their catch it has nowadays developed into a rare but very beautiful art form involving Chinese or Japanese Mulberry Paper or Rice Paper because of its long and flexible fibers and Ink – often Sumi-e Ink is being used.

After a Fish Rubbing is finalized, it is often adorned with a chop of the seal stone of the artist which is called hanko (判子) in Japanese, yìnzhāng (印章) in modern Chinese. Regarding the usage of seals in the Chinese artistic tradition you can read more in our knowledge base.

This art form is said to have been developed for the first time in the mid 1800’s in fishing villages along the coasts of Japan.

Traditionally just used on fish, its application nowadays has spread to other animals of the sea as one of the videos below nicely shows.

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