How to Paint on Rice Paper

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Things You'll Need

  • Number 2 pencil

  • Rice paper

  • Drawing board

  • Jar of water

  • Elmer's glue

  • Ink slab

  • Ink stick

  • Bamboo brush

  • Color sticks

Rice paper is made from the pith of a small, swamp-growing tree.
Image Credit: Hemera Technologies/ Images

Techniques of painting on rice paper have been around for over 2,000 years, and were established in China, Japan and Korea. This ancient method of painting requires considerable practice and patience. Similar to western paintings, rice paper paintings are created in layers. Because rice paper is delicate, ink must be prepared to the correct consistency before applying it to the paper.


Step 1

Trace or draw your design with a pencil on the rice paper.

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Step 2

Adhere the drawing to the drawing board by dampening the paper and putting Elmer's glue along the edges of the board. The drawing will dry flat and the board will help to soak up excess water as you paint.


Step 3

Place a tiny amount of water into the ink slab. Start with the black ink stick. Holding it upright, press the end of the stick gently in the water and stir in a slow circular motion until the desired ratio of ink to water is achieved. If there is too much water, the ink will expand and run. If it is too dry, it will not flow.


Step 4

Warm up by testing your ink on a test sheet of rice paper using your bamboo brush.

Step 5

Paint the lines of your drawing with the bamboo brush. Work in light layers, allowing the paper to dry between each layer of paint applied. Build up all of your value scales in black and white and allow it to dry completely.


Step 6

Mix color ink stick paints in the same way as black ink. Layer them onto the painting one at a time.

Step 7

Create subtle gradations of color by applying clear water along the edge of a wet wash. It is possible to paint over a wet area to create a variety of tones similar to wet-into-wet watercolor techniques.


The black ink stick must be free from soot. The older the stick is, the better it will work.

Alternate methods of painting on rice paper include using India or Chinese ink directly on paper or drawing with wax like a batik painting, filling in areas with watercolor and ironing off the wax for a stained-glass appearance.

Bamboo brushes come in a wide variety of stiffness levels. Try painting with both softer and harder bamboo brushes to achieve a unique assortment of looks.

Create a number of fun, artsy products with your rice paper designs, from food wrappings to a changing screen to a Chinese fan or umbrella.


Make sure to work slowly because ink cannot be erased.

Chinese ink has a limited color palette.


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