Used in Chinese Brush Painting are the Four Treasures of the Abode of Culture; the ink, the inkstone, the brushes, and the rice paper (or silk). Preparing to paint is considered part of the painting process; one grinds the ink (a solid stick) and mixes it with water on the inkstone, meditating on the texture and aroma of the ink and on the painting that is to come.
Students learn by copying the masters, even literally tracing the works of their teachers. Originality and creativity are not expected (or even welcomed) in the beginner.
Nature is indeed a source of inspiration for the Chinese artist, and the beginner is taught four basic forms: bamboo ("the upright gentleman"), plum or cherry blossoms, the wild orchid, and the chrysanthemum.
Negative space, the "blank" areas with no paint in them, are very important to the composition; white space affects the balance of the painting, and can be used to imply mist, snow, the reflection of sun on water, etc.
It is only after years of training with black ink (and the shades of gray created by diluting it with water) that the novice is allowed to paint in color.
Thanks to my teacher, Anne Friend Clark; also The How and Why of Chinese Painting, 1974, by Diana Kan
(see also Sumi-e)