The Japanese Art of Painting Dragons with a Single Brush Stroke


The talented Sumie painters of Kousyuuya Studio in Nikko, Japan can paint the body of a dragon with a single stroke of the brush. The delicate technique is known as ‘hitofude ryuu’, which literally means ‘dragon with one stroke’, and it’s been around for four generations.

Watching these painters create a perfect dragon – with all the shades and scales – in just a couple of seconds is a true delight. It all looks so effortless, but there’s a lot of hard work and practice involved in getting the stroke right.

To create a single dragon painting, the Sumie artists first make the ornate head with various flourishes, using a smaller brush. Then, they dip a much larger sumie brush into the desired paint color and simply swipe it across the canvas in one swift movement. You really have to watch a video to realize the brilliance of the technique.

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In the clips, the master painters seem to be making a single, long stroke. But if you watch closely, there are actually tiny, almost undetectable hand movements which result in the staggered design. This makes the body of the dragon come alive, appearing to writhe across the canvas.


In Japanese culture, dragons are considered to be similar to guardian angels. They act as talismans against evil and bring good luck. The artists at Kousyuuya only create dragon art, and they seem to have perfected the technique over the years. Each of their paintings is unique, personalized and made in front of the customer, who is free to choose the design and the color of the dragon.



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