How to Substitute Colors in Chinese Painting

Free Video: Ling Chi demonstrates how to substitute Bright Light colors for the color palette in Ning Yeh's 108 Flower Book 1 Amaryllis Lesson

Principles of Color Substitution

Often times students get stalled out following Chinese Brush Painting instruction at color mixing. If they do not have the exact colors that the instruction calls for, they think that they cannot do the lesson. Here are some tips for overcoming this obstacle.

Understanding Color Use in General

When you look at most lessons by Ning Yeh, what he is doing is using two different shades of a main color. For example for a red flower, he will have a red and a dark red. He will make petals by loading the red deeper into the brush and the dark red at the tip. Same goes for the leaves. He will do light leaves with a light green in the body and a dark green at the tip. He will do darker leaves with dark green in the body and ink at the tip. When you understand this, it becomes easier to do color substitution.

Using Ink Instead

The simplest substitution is to use ink. Making a couple diluted shades of ink, a medium and a light ink by adding water to pure ink, you will have everything you need to do a version of the painting in the lesson just with ink.

Using Other Colors

Once you understand the idea of how lighter shades and darker shades of the same color are paired, it becomes easy to substitute almost any color that you have to make it possible for you to follow the lesson. If you are not picky you can even do a blue version of a red flower, if you have dark blue and light blue but do not have red and dark red.

Advanced Color Substitution

Once you understand basic color substitution, you may take on the challenge of advanced color substitution. This is where you try to copy the color shades in the original lesson as close as possible by using colors that are more easily available to you. Often times you will mix two different colors that you have to try to get as close as possible to a single color in the lesson.

This is the type of color substitution Ling Chi demonstrates in the video. In particular, you see her mix Bright Light colors red and burnt sienna to get something close to the color Cadmium Red Deep by Schmincke.

Be Guided by Your Taste

Different students have different goals. Initially many just want to be able to follow a lesson and produce any painting inspired by that lesson. With this more general goal, there is a lot of flexibility with color. You can use ink instead or you can generally substitute color and still be successful.

Sometimes, however, it is the color palette itself that is a key part of the inspiration of the lesson. If this is the case then advanced color substitution will be a better approach. The student should be willing to use trial and error to get the shades that most closely match the palette in the original lesson. If budget and availability permits, purchasing the exact colors that the artist uses in the lesson would be advised if the color use in the original painting was the reason why the student chose the lesson.

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