Since similar tools and lines were used for the earliest painting and writing, painting is said to have the same origin as calligraphy. Chinese paintings usually integrated poetry and calligraphy with themes that include figures, landscapes, flowers, birds and other animals, offering more profound aesthetic connotations. Many Chinese painters are poets and calligraphers at the same time. A painter often adds a poem to the painting, which invariably carries an impression of his or her seal. The resulting piece of work is usually an integrated whole of four branches of Chinese art – poetry, calligraphy, painting and seal-carving. Like Chinese writing brushes: Chinese paintbrushes are mainly made of animal hairs glued into a bamboo handle. New brushes are stiffened with glue, which must be soaked before their first use to remove the glue. Once they are soaked, the brushes swell. Most brushes have loops at the end of the handle, which can be used to hang the brushes with their bristles downwards. To hang the brushes like this allows them to dry without letting the water from the bristles affect the brush handles.
There are two main types of brushes: hard brushes made from brown wolf hairs and soft brushes made from white goat hairs. Chinese brushes tend to be larger than typical European watercolor brushes. One reason for this is that the brushes can be loaded with several colors at the same time (usually with darker colors towards the tip of the brush), so that leaves or petals may be painted in a single stoke with a blend of colors by using the side of the brush instead of just the tip.
Different from western painting, traditional Chinese painting has its unique way of expression. As an important part of Chinese cultural heritage, traditional Chinese painting is distinguished from Western paintings in that it is executed on xuan paper or silk with the Chinese brush, Chinese ink and mineral and vegetable pigments. Xuan paper is the most suitable for Chinese painting.