Here is some information about Where & What to Buy material supplies for kick starting your brush painting practice (note: I do not benefit from and I am not trying to promote business for the named art supply stores)
In San Francisco —
Eastwind Books & Arts, Inc. Address: 1435 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA Tel: 415-772-5877
In East Bay —
Oakland Bookstore & Newsstand, a small bookstore/newsstand at Renaissance Plaza in Chinatown Oakland, on Webster Street, it is a street level shop near the corner of 9th and Webster. As far as brushes selection, not as complete as Eastwind Books & Arts but has inexpensive brushes, and rolls of xuan paper, the necessary basics to start with.
What to buy:
You will need Ink, Paper, and Brushes. Here are some practical tips to what to buy if you are a beginner versus if you want to take up a more serious practice to achieve better results.
1. Brushes – Chinese brushes
Get one generic brush for Chinese brush painting (Flower & Bird brush 花鳥筆), tip of brush about three-quarter to one inch in length, white or brown haired. (Cost from $5) Consider that it matters less how good your brushes are, more important is how often you practice painting.
To get a set of brushes to practice a variety of fine to broad brush strokes, choose one or two white haired brushes, small, medium, large White Cloud brush (小白雲, 中白雲, or 大白雲), cost $5-$8; and one brown haired brush, small, medium, large Bamboo & Orchid brush (小蘭竹, 中蘭竹, 大蘭竹), about $8-$20. The Bamboo & Orchid brown brush would be more expensive, so pick the size you are comfortable with, I recommend medium or large, some people like to paint large and some paint small, and you will use it for a while, I have mine all my life. And one or two fine brushes for outline painting, from $1-$5, as well as painting details such as veins of leaves, stamens of flowers, etc.
2. Ink – Chinese ink
We use either Chinese ink or Japanese Sumi Drawing ink. The common brand for Chinese ink is called 一得閣墨汁, the Japanese ink is 墨液. I find the Sumi ink more highly concentrated, I like the Chinese ink for its consistency.
The paper I use during my brush painting workshops is Calligraphy Paper (60 sheets per pack @ $1.5) from a Japanese store. We can also practice with newsprint to get the flow but the absorbency of the newsprint is not the same as the xuan paper typically used in brush painting. I recommend using newspaper or pages from an old phone directory to practice the movement of the brush and varying strokes, but it will not do for learning control of the ink in terms of wet or dry brush.
Xuan paper (中國書畫宣紙) comes in a roll that can be cut into desirable sizes, it is relatively thin and very absorbent to Chinese ink. The xuan paper used in traditional Chinese painting comes in different weights/thickness. For painting refined portraits we use a coated xuan paper for which the coating makes the paper non-absorbent for the painter to take time in applying colors. For flower and birds we use uncoated xuan paper.