Museum Hours
Thu: 1 PM–8 PM
Fri–Mon: 10 AM–5 PM
Tue–Wed: Closed
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

How to Paint a Sparrow in the Lingnan Tradition

Objective: Learn how to paint a sparrow in the Lingnan tradition.

Content Standards (California)

Visual/Performing Arts: 4.1.2: Describe how negative shapes/forms and positive shapes/forms are used in a chosen work of art.
4.2.6: Use the interaction between positive and negative space expressively in a work of art.
4.2.7: Use contrast (light and dark) expressively in an original work of art.
6.5.3: Create artwork containing visual metaphors that express the traditions and myths of selected cultures.


Big hard 1.5″ wolf’s hair brush

Small hard 1/2″ wolf’s hair brush

2″ sheep’s hair brush

Bottle of black liquid ink made in China or Japan

Absorbent rice paper

White dishes 4″ in diameter in plastic or ceramic

Water container

Watercolor paint in the following colors: vermillion and gambode (dark yallow) and crimson lake

Visual instructions (see images)


  1. Use a coarse brush (shanma bi, or mountain and horse brush) for painting. Dip the brush in water, but get rid of the excess water. Dip the brush first in a mixture of vermilion and gamboge (dark yellow) and again in crimson lake mixed with ink. With the brush lying close to the surface of the paper, work one stroke to complete the torso.
  2. Dip the brush in black ink, add the lower feathers and tail.
  3. Add top part of wings.
  4. Add bottom part of wings.
  5. Dip the brush in light ink, add spots to the brown torso area. Then dip the brush in dark brown (a mixture of vermilion and gamboge and crimson lake and ink), paint the forehead of the bird in two strokes. Extend the light brown area up to the wing, dip the brush in dark brown, add a line under the wing.
  6. Dip the brush in ink, add eyes and beak.
  7. Dip the brush in dark brown (a mixture of vermilion and gamboge and crimson lake and ink), paint eye, tongue and beak. For the legs, first dip the brush in a mixture of indigo and ink, then in another mixture of indigo and ink and a bit of white. Use ink for the toenails.

Painting a sparrow in the Lingnan tradition activity by Dr. Susan Ho (Ho Fung-lin), student of the late Professor Chao Shao-an.