How to Paint Gong-bi (Fine Line) Style


Zoom in, detail shot of the painting Misty and Rosy Clouds by Zhou Ping-Guang featured in his book A Collection of Artworks by Zhou Ping-Guang.

Chinese Fine Line or Gong-bi Style Painting

There are two main styles of Chinese Painting that OAS chooses to focus on. The primary is the Spontaneous or Xie Yi style. The other is the fine line or Gong-bi style. 

The two styles share a common technique in painting line strokes. In fact practicing fine line or Gong-bi style of painting is a great way to create more discipline in the line work for Spontaneous style painting.

Gong-bi is also a great style for those with a background in Western style watercolor or who have an affinity for one of the most modernly relevant forms of art: Tattoo art. It shares much more common feelings with these types of art forms than the Spontaneous style of Chinese painting and therefore is often an easier transition for people with backgrounds in these Western styles of painting.

We have a couple free videos below with some excellent demonstrations and tips for fine line painting.

Quick recap of the fine line session from one of our OAS Workshops. Brief but lots of technique "tricks" highlighted here.

The primary focus of this simple Rose lesson in two styles is the fine line style Rose.


Summary of Tips and Tricks for Gong-bi Style Painting

Tips for Outlining/Line Work

  • If you are just starting in the style, it is easy to take an outline draft from a lesson or some other sources, place a piece of fully-sized rice paper over the top and trace the outline for your painting. This technique is demonstrated in both of the videos below.
  • You should no be shy about tracing lessons at first. Do this often enough and your line work will become confident and then you can outline in a more freehand way.
  • Vary the width of your line work subtly rather than having it be all the same width
  • Do multiple version of your line work in the same session as it is a great way to use extra color and time that would otherwise be idle during shading

Tricks for Shading

  • Leave a hairline space in between your outline and your shading
  • Apply shading colors from darkest to light, starting with light ink first and then the next darkest color and so on
  • Apply color in a "U" shape leave some space in the middle to create more dimension
  • "Pull" the color with a clean dry brush to fade the edges of each shading step so that it transitions seamlessly into the lighter colors
  • Wait sufficient time for each color shading layer to dry before applying the next color
  • Don't be afraid to shade multiple versions of the same painting at once to use up all your colors and to take advantage of time you are waiting for layers to dry (rather than just waiting idly you can shade another version of the painting while waiting for the first version to dry)
  • Target the right moisture level with shading, leaving enough color to effectively pull and fade but not too much so as you create a puddle

Materials Tips

  • Use a high quality fully sized paper. OAS recommends Shimmer for final compositions and Glass paper for practice
  • Brushes for fine line style painting are relatively inexpensive. Make sure you have enough brushes for shading. It is much easier to have separate brushes for applying darker colors and lighter colors and even separate brushes for pulling darker and light colors. Having as many as four separate Small Fine Soft Brushes will make your shading much less tedious and much more successful.
  • OAS recommends Red Feather Brushes for doing the outline work in the Gong-bi style. Beginners should start with the Red Feather Small. Once you have more control you more choose a larger Red Feather Brush to be able to show more variation in your line work or to do more line work without reloading the brush

SET03: Fine Line 'Gong-bi' Set - $60.00

GLS012: The Rose - $6.95 (free with qualifying purchases)

WSF0001:  Peony in Gong-bi Style - $8.50

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