The Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual was first published in 1679 in Nanjing by the artist Wang Gai, with two later sequels (1701) and thereafter in many editions. Though similar in intent to the Ten Bamboo Studio albums (c 1643) also from Nanjing, it is far more didactic and more truly a painting manual for copying. The first part of the first volume is an introduction to the fundamental principles of Chinese painting.
Subsequent sections break down the elements of a landscape painting so that the figures, boats, trees and rocks can be separately copied and mastered before the apprentice painter attempts his own compositions from these elements. Landscape compositions, which are not included in the Ten Bamboo Studio Albums, also appear. A variety of techniques is shown from soft lines and colors to almost monochrome designs.
Most compositions are made with inclusion of calligraphy and seals, making them appear like traditional scholarly paintings. The original edition was a color printed woodblock book while later editions were in black and white only.
Sources: Chinese Illustration (in the collection of the British Museum) by Dr. Francis Wood