Zhang Linhai started by studying wood engravings as an undergraduate, and has developed as a painter since then. Depictions of bald children wandering through, or flying over, an arid wasteland or countryside village are characteristic of his works. This subject matter was chosen in college, stemming from his personal pain and sadness as a child, and reflects his childhood struggles and his dreams of escape and liberation.
The repeated arrangements of his motif display nostalgia and alienation. Drawing from an established artistic language developed during his second year of college, Zhang Linhai rarely sketches his ideas beforehand, and almost always uses oils. He works directly onto his canvas, and allows the narrative to fully develop under his brush.