Sumi-e Supplies
Ink Art By Oi Yee Tai

Where to buy Chinese calligraphy and painting supplies:

I am based in Toronto, Canada where Chinese calligraphy and painting supplies are available but not the best nor the cheapest. I have been asked by my art followers where I get my supplies and if I can recommend some place where they can buy them too.

Here’s a small corner of my art studio. The antique chest has been with my family for a long time, and we brought it with us when we moved from Hong Kong decades ago. I bought a lot of supplies when I was travelling in China and Taiwan. I did buy some brushes here in Toronto, but they are almost double the price.

I love seals, and I had them custom carved in China as well as here in Toronto. I actually carved some myself too...see pics below

Since my art followers cannot travel to Hong Kong, Taiwan, China or Japan to get them, I have now compiled a list here of some reasonably priced supplies you can get at Amazon. They are good enough for beginners to give it a try and not waste a lot of money if you end up not pursuing it. Actually the quality is not bad, just not ultra-professional, so even intermediate users will find them satisfactory. I have also included in the relevant sections some links to videos I found online which teach you how to maintain and use the materials.

If you are not sure what the painting supplies are comprised of, here is a brief explanation of The Four Treasures of Chinese Ink Wash Painting (文房四寶). Sumi-e is the expression of the mind and spirit of the artist through the Four Treasures which are:
  • Brush (筆): The ink brush is usually made of goat, rabbit, or yellow weasel hair. The textures are soft, hard or mixed depending on the artist’s use.
  • Ink (墨) : Ink sticks are made of soot mixed with animal glue, and sometimes aromatic or medicinal powders.
  • Paper (紙) : It is not just any kind of paper. It is thin mulberry bark paper (Xuan paper from China and Washi paper from Japan). It is also generically called “rice paper” in the west though rice is not one of the ingredients. It is highly absorbent and unforgiving. The brushstrokes have to be fluid and fast, and mistakes cannot be masked like on watercolour paper.
  • Inkstone (硯) : The inkstone is used for grinding the ink stick with water. The four famous inkstones are Duan 端硯, She 歙硯, Tao洮硯 and Chengni 澄泥硯.

Books and Guides:
芥子園畫譜 The Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual is a printed manual compiled during the early-Qing Dynasty. Many self-taught master painters like Qi Baishi learned the basics from this book and then developed their own style. I have my own hard cover set, but it is all in Chinese.
The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting


I love free style Chinese painting where the essence is captured with minimal strokes. For this style, I love using goat-wolf hair combo brushes. For the wolf part, even though the description here in English is "wolf", it is not really wolf hair. It is actually yellow weasel hair as the Chinese name for weasel is 黃鼠狼(literally yellow rat wolf).
Easyou Chinese Calligraphy Sumi Drawing Brush for Freestyle Painting Jianhao(Wolf+Goat Hair) 3pcs/pack(size:large+medium+small) hsxy

These wolf hair brushes are good for painting bamboo and orchid, as they are more rigid than goat hair or goat-wolf mix :
3pcs lanzhu Orchid Bamboo Wolf Hair Shuangyang Chinese Calligraphy Painting Brush S M L Set

This is a very affordable beginner set. You get different sizes for this cheap price. Quality is not tops but at least you get to try and see if you love Chinese painting/ calligraphy:

Claborate-Style Painting Writing Brush Watercolor Chinese Calligraphy Brush Set Kanji Japanese Sumi Painting Drawing Brushes+Roll-up Bamboo Brush Holder (18 Piece/Set)

This large brush with mixed hair is good for pomo and also drawing ensos:

MB023 Hmayart Featured Brush for Chinese Painting & Ink Brush Calligraphy (Huge Brush for Pomo)
If you need to paint fine lines, these are good..for bird and flower gongbi paintings UE STORE Set of 4 Chinese Painting Brushes Set Flower Bird Line-Drawing Brushes

This large brush (they call it futo fude in Japan) is made of goat, horse, racoon and other hairs. It should be quite versatile:

Futo Fude (large brush) Gokuhin Chou Hou Ryu Un Japanese Sumi Calligraphy Brush

Ink, Ink Stone and Ink Stick::

You have to grind the ink stick against the ink stone, adding water gradually to get the consistency you want. I find the grinding process very soothing and a chance for meditation. It is also a soul searching moment, bringing you into the mood for painting. The four famous inkstones are Duan 端硯, She 歙硯, Tao洮硯 and Chengni 澄泥硯.

Easyou Chinese Duan Ink Stone with Wooden Cap Calligraphy Supplies Art Supplies 5"

Easyou She Yan Taiji Ink Stone Chinese Calligraphy Round Inkstone Bagua Natural Stone Wavy with Cover 4"
Double Sided Japanese Inkstone Made of Bakelite
Easyou Hukaiwen Ink Block Handmade Refined Pine Soot Ink Stick for Chinese Japanese Calligraphy and Painting 31g

* After acquiring your inkstone, here is a good video on how to maintain your inkstone

These are raw Xuan paper suitable for the Free style Chinese painting. It bleeds easily but if you have control over the amount of water you use, and the speed of the brushstroke, you should have no problem with this type of paper. Mastering it will give you immense satisfaction
HM004 Hmay Single layer Raw Xuan Paper 100 Sheets (68 x 34 cm) (26.8 x13.4 in) (antique)
MEGREZ Large Size Chinese Japanese Calligraphy Practice Writing Sumi Drawing Xuan Rice Paper Without Grids 100 Sheets/Set - 69 x 138 cm (27.16 x 54.33 Inch), Sheng (Raw) Xuan

These are good for calligraphy:
Meiyutang Handmade Bamboo Xuan Paper Rice Paper for Calligraphy Painting 20sheets/pack 34x138cm(11.8"x54.3")
It is very expensive to have my work on rice paper mounted on silk scrolls here in Canada, especially using the traditional wet mounting method. If you are not afraid of making mistakes and wasting scrolls, you can buy ready made scrolls online. This is made with raw Xuan paper in the middle for painting, and outside is silk like fabric :
OMDD Set of 2 Sumi Hanging Scrolls Blank Calligraphy Scrolls Classic Chinese Calligraphy/Painting Blank Scrolls (Color May Vary)
More expensive but nicer quality: JZ001 Hmay kakejiku Blank Mounting Hanging Scroll Chinese Rice Xuan Paper Art Wall Scrolls for Sumie and Calligraphy (40 Inch)
These are paper scrolls with the backing paper also being paper with fabric look, so are more economical:
JZ014 Hmay kakejiku Blank Mounting Hanging Wall Scroll Set for Kanji, Sumi and Chinese Calligraphy (6pcs/set)
This is a cloth scroll with even the inner painting area being cloth. It is not a traditional type of scroll for ink painting. It is a look alike on which you paint with acrylic:
Blank Cloth Art Scroll

Beginner Sets:
This set of brushes even comes with a stand, great deal:
Chinese Calligraphy / Sumi Drawing / Kanji Brush Set-Excellent High Quality (6 Brushes)
Chinese Calligraphy Brush, Aeola Chinese Brush Painting Gift Set,Chinese Brush Writting or Paintting + Inkstone + Ink Block + Stamp + Ink Paste + Penholder + Water Bowl ( 10 PCS)
HorBous 7pcs Chinese Calligraphy Writing Kit Gift Box for Beginners Including 2 brush / Ink Strips / Inkstone / Water Write Cloth / Brush Stand/ Water Dish / Suitcase (coffee)

You can get seals custom carved for your name:
Cylindrical stone seal, carved name, personal custom, Chinese traditional carving, directly from China (1.5x1.5x5cm(Square))

This seal mud is Shanghai Xiling seal mud, very good quality, but not as good as the one and only Xiling seal mud from Hangzhou, which I travelled all the way to China's West Lake and bought it directly from the Xiling Seal Society at the Gushan Island on West Lake. This Shanghai one is the second best one I have used though:
Easyou Shanghai Xiling Ink Paste Chinese Seal Red Ink Pad 30g(1.06oz) Vermilion Zhupiao

* This Seal Mud Master teaches you how to stir and maintain the seal mud and also how to correctly use the seal mud to apply the seal stamp

Easyou Black Catalpa Calligraphy Brush Holder Chinese Brush Rack 9x2x4.5cm(3.5"x0.8"x1.77")
MyLifeUNIT Bamboo 12pins Calligraphy Brush Holder Classical Chinese Calligraphy Kanji Brush Hanger

Float Frames:
Here are some float frames which you can purchase directly from Amazon. They are perfect for framing irregular size artwork, and also economical since no matting or mounting service is needed. Simply insert the artwork between the two panes of glass or acrylic. So if you do not have access to Chinese scroll mounting, or rice paper mounting, you can try using these frames to showcase your work:
MCS 16x20 Inch Wood Float Frame, Black (40955)
Better Homes and Gardens Float Picture Frame, Black, Set of 2
Umbra Corda Photo Display, 11 by 14-Inch/8 by 10-Inch Float, Aged Walnut
Wexel Art 15x18-Inch Double Panel Clear Acrylic Floating Frame for Up to 11x14 Art & Photos

Tai Oi Yee's Chinese Inkwash Paintings -
| 戴愛兒 -
| contact: | © Tai Oi Yee | 墨絵