Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting

The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting is probably the best known book about Chinese painting. Originally published in 1679, Mai-mai Sze translated it into English in 1956. Chinese artists for over three-hundred years have looked to it as a basic training manual for painting.

It contains illustrated sections on how to paint trees, rocks, people, buildings, flowers, insects, birds, and more.

trees Met
orchid Met
Huang Gongwang2 Met

Although there are color versions, it’s been reprinted most often—due to the cost—in black and white. The original was created from wood blocks, so its monochrome illustrations show no gradation of light and dark, only black. Still, for someone just starting out, this is the easiest way to take your first steps. Chinese painting is, after all, an extension of the art of calligraphy with color only as a decorative addition.

Most versions, although not in Mai-mai Sze’s translation, contain a final section with examples of paintings from past masters. Different editions illustrate different examples.

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