The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Sadie Allen. Sadie is spending the first part of her gap year in China.

Before I left China, I had the privilege of learning how to paint in the Chinese style from one of my good friends. While I had studied Chinese art in high school and had seen it in museums, this experience was my first time trying to recreate the iconic and beautiful painting technique. My friend chose to teach me how to paint a peony for my lesson. Flowers have been symbolic in Chinese culture for centuries. In fact, in China’s earliest collection of Poetry, 詩經, flowers are used to symbolize beauty. Since then, flowers have become a common subject in Chinese paintings.

Despite being a seasoned artist, I struggled as I began painting my flower. My friend made the process look effortless– gliding the ink-soaked brush across his paper and carefully placing each petal in its desired spot. As I attempted to mimic his flower, my other friend, who sat watching, chimed in to say “Your peony looks more like a basketball!”. I couldn’t help but to agree. While I was disheartened by my inability to paint a decent flower, I continued with the process. I found that being left-handed made it difficult to maneuver my brush, and led many of my petals to be overly saturated with ink or even lopsided.

Despite my struggles using the brush, I was happy with how my flower petals turned out. Thankfully, the peony was beginning to lose its basketball facade. My friend noted that this ink painting technique was similar to some of the abstract paintings found in America. I loved noticing the connections between the two art forms from two different cultures. The final step was to take some yellow paint and add pollen to the center. This tied the flower together and made my painting look more realistic.

Despite the challenges that I faced while painting my peony, I was proud of my finished product. I had managed to paint a beautiful flower in a medium and style I had never tried, all thanks to the help of my friend. Not only was I able to paint a flower that I was proud of, but I was able to learn about the style and history along the way. If you would like to learn more about Chinese flower painting, The China Online Museum has an interesting article on it. I’m so grateful for the experience I had and I will cherish my peony painting forever.

Check out Sadie’s video documenting her experience painting here!