This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.MORE INFO
Menu Close

Rooted in tradition, calligraphy is a cornerstone of Chinese culture and considered a prized art form. Based on the same Chinese characters, different calligraphy artists work in various styles to convey a wide range of emotions, sometimes painting characters in accordance with ancient rules and sometimes adapting the number of strokes or stroke order.

During Lunar New Year, Spring Festival couplets — brush works of Chinese calligraphy in ink on paper — are posted on doors in pairs, often in seven-character lines, as auspicious symbols. The contents of the calligraphy vary, from the arrival of spring to themes of harmony and prosperity and more.

Here, Hong Kong contemporary ink artist Michell Lie of Michell Lie Studio shows The Style Sheet her modern take on traditional New Year couplets in seven steps.

Lie’s inspiration? Cherry blossoms. ‘They bloom during the spring, which is a time when everything restarts and regrows. Their short-lived, bittersweet life cycle reminds us to treasure and cherish all things good,’ says Lie. ‘The characters indicate a time of year for greenery and budding blooms. It’s a time for renewal, joy and growth. I hope these couplets capture the essence of the full moon, and remind everyone to regain our perspective on life and priorities.’

What You’ll Need

  • 1 large rectangular sheet of watercolour paper
  • Craft knife and ruler
  • Black ink
  • 1 medium watercolour brush
  • 1 medium Chinese ink brush (‘mao bi’)
  • Watercolour paint in shades of pink, red and orange
  • Water
  • Fine black felt-tip pen
  • Pencil and eraser
Start with paint clusters of translucent petals and an outline of branches

Step 1

Lightly score your sheet of paper down the centre lengthwise with the craft knife and ruler so that the cut is visible, but the paper doesn’t fully separate. Outline the characters of your couplet in pencil. Using the watercolour brush, paint clusters of translucent petals in the general outline of where you want the trunk and branches to be.

Connect your cherry blossoms and add nodules and smaller branches

Step 2

Using the Chinese ink brush, connect your cherry blossoms. Use greater downward pressure to create thicker strokes at the start, finishing lightly with the brush tip to create tapered branches. Add details like nodules and smaller branches as you like.

Add contrast with bright red blossoms

Step 3

With the watercolour brush loaded with your brightest red, add more blossoms around the branches. They can be as abundant or minimal as you like.

Splatter paint around blossom clusters

Step 4

Saturate your watercolour brush with red watercolour, and tap the brush firmly against the pencil to create small splatters of paint around some of your blossom clusters. Repeat with the black ink around parts of the trunk.

Write characters in bold black strokes

Step 5

Using the ink brush, write the characters in bold, black strokes. If you can’t write in Chinese, you can copy from many popular greetings you can find online.

Use a fine felt-tip pen to add a layer of detail

Step 6

Add details to select blossoms using the fine felt-tip pen.

Separate the couplet and fix to your doorway

Step 7

You’re almost finished! Once the ink and paint have dried, complete the initial cut down the length of your paper and separate the couplet. Fix a half to the wall on each side of your doorway.