‘Formal Brush Writing’ exercises

I started practicing exercises from Tom Kemp’s book ‘Formal Brush Writing’. I use the same ink and practice paper I use for Chinese calligraphy. The only difference is the flat brush. I hold the brush the same way I hold a brush for Chinese calligraphy. The first three exercises are straight line, forming a long triangle, and making a circle.

I really like forming the circles. It’s pretty fun rotating the brush. It’s a stroke that’s really novel to me, and almost seems rule-breaking to do it. It’s a very cool shape to be able to form with the brush movement.

I do wonder how much of these techniques I can apply elsewhere. It probably would not be used for Chinese calligraphy, but it might result in some interesting shapes for abstract painting.

Advertisements

Focusing on brushes for Western calligraphy

When I started Western calligraphy, I found that there were many tools. Unlike Chinese calligraphy, which is only written with a brush, Western calligraphy has many possible tools. The main ones would be pointed pen and edge pen. Other tools include brush markers, glass pens, fountain pens. I dabbled with many tools when I first started Western calligraphy, not knowing which was the best or worked well for me.

Since I had different tools for Western calligraphy, I started thinking about Chinese calligraphy with these different tools as well. The tools for 硬筆書法 hard pen calligraphy include pencil, pen, and fountain pen. But so far I have not had the time to explore 硬筆書法。

With all the tools available, I think it’s time to focus on one tool and work on it. To complement my work in Chinese calligraphy, I’ve decided to focus on the brush as a tool and not worry about other tools for now. This allows me have more flexibility in future projects to combine both types of calligraphy.

I have some brushes to test for Western calligraphy. I’m trying smaller and smaller brushes to see if I can create lines as thin as pointed pen.

There are six months until I take a brush Roman workshop. I’ll be using the time from now until then to work on preliminary exercises. I need to become comfortable holding a flat brush the way I hold brush for Chinese calligraphy. This is completely new, but will definitely be an interesting technique to learn!

Lunar New Year banners

The theme for this year’s Lunar New Year banners is time. Each of the sayings is related to the passing of time. My original intention was to write the banners in seal script, since that is the script I am currently practicing. However, it seemed that the banners might look better in standard script. I ended up writing banners in both scripts. The banner on the left is in seal script, and the banner on the right is in standard script.

日日進財 Receive wealth day after day

月月平安 Be safe and sound month after month

年年有餘 Have abundance year after year

I also made some individual single character banners.

福 Good fortune and prosperity. The banner on the top is in seal script, and the banner on the bottom is in standard script.

春 Spring. I only wrote this in standard script.

I had some trouble last year with this paper. It is nothing like the usual paper for calligraphy. This paper is almost like wrapping paper, with a very slippery surface. I had to adjust and write really slowly. I also found that not all brands of ink is appropriate for this paper. 吳竹墨 is better than 一得閣. I thought 一得閣 was too wet and was difficult to control.

I also tried to use the red envelopes from last year, but found even regular black ink would only adhere with some gum sandarac. I really do not like the look of it on the red paper because it turns the paper pinkish and leaves dust all over. Dried ink also has a tendency to fall off.

I ended up making red envelopes out of the same paper for the banners.

I tried some gold inks this year, but none seemed to work with the paper. I probably need to experiment with some more gold inks before I find one that works. Another possibility is to find better banner paper. I have seen descriptions of paper that has a consistency closer to mulberry paper (the type of paper typically for calligraphy). Ink should soak into that type of paper better. I would expect to have the same (at least closer) results compared to writing on regular calligraphy paper.

Calligraphy vs. painting

I have started to notice differences between the techniques in calligraphy and painting. I can also understand why people who start painting start focusing on painting and not calligraphy. I’ve found that there’s so much to explore in painting that my focus can keep changing during one practice session. I need to make sure I devote equal time on both.

I’m slowing getting acclimated to mixing different shades of ink. Painting requires different shades of ink. Calligraphy uses full ink. I found this article really helpful. Loading the ink on the brush is also different. For calligraphy, I have a sense of how much ink is necessary. In painting, squeezing out ink on the side of ink stone is not enough. It seems that the only way to remove enough ink so the brush is not overloaded is by brushing on a paper towel. I think I’m understanding what I need to do, I just need to remember to do it.

Another adjustment to painting is needing different brushes. With different shades of grey in painting, it’s better to use different brushes for each shade. Otherwise I’m constantly washing the same brush, which is really time consuming. Now I need more brushes. I’m using brushes are not good enough for calligraphy, but they might also not be good enough for painting.

The angle of the brush is also different in painting. In calligraphy, the brush is upright, practically perpendicular to the paper. However, in painting, the brush can be angled in different directions, even parallel, to create the desired shapes.

A pretty curious aspect of painting is the variation of wet to dry brush. For calligraphy, the brush needs to be wet enough to produce strong strokes. In painting, a dry brush can produce different textures.

Starting Chinese painting is a rather fun addition to my calligraphy practice. As I learn the differences, I’m also understanding calligraphy more and more. I think I’m off to a good start.

New goals

Looking back at my original goals, I accomplished a lot. I learned French cursive, and made a breakthrough with Copperplate calligraphy. I started running script, and even started splash ink painting. Practicing on blank paper, instead of grid paper, is my standard now. I also took many workshops: brush calligraphy in English, rubber stamping, and exploring creativity.

There were also a few things that I wanted to do that I did not get around doing. I have not worked on writing Chinese beautifully. I also did not work on drawing, which I decided was not as important for the time being.

For the next year, my focus will continue to be on Chinese calligraphy and painting. Instead of splash painting, I would like to work on painting flowers and plants. I was inspired recently to give it a try, and I like the results.

I would like to aim towards completed works. It is time to start working on writing Chinese beautifully. I’ll definitely keep looking out for workshops and events that enhance my art practice.

Time to incorporate painting?

When I started learning calligraphy, the class was a combination painting and calligraphy class. In class I focused on the calligraphy, but would learn some painting here and there. I was not particularly interested in painting because I’m not very good at drawing. I did start some abstract painting. I felt more comfortable than trying to paint or recreate tangible objects.

I recently decided to paint some plum blossoms for a piece for winter solstice. I had not painted plum blossoms before. I used brush pens to paint the flowers and branches. I think the piece turned out pretty good. The proportion of words to the painting could be better, but the focus was supposed to be the words, not the plum blossoms. It took a couple of tries before I got the color mixture I wanted for the flowers. But in the end, I think it reflected what I wanted to paint.

It later occurred to me that I actually liked painting the plum blossoms. The painting and calligraphy would look much better on mulberry paper instead of western watercolor paper. Watercolor would create a better effect compared to markers. The piece would look better if I actually painted it the way it was supposed to be in the Chinese style. I liked the simplicity of a single type of flower. Perhaps abstract watercolor was becoming too abstract and experimental. A single branch felt grounded and stable.

My conclusion was that perhaps it is time to start painting in addition to calligraphy. When I started calligraphy, some family members kept on suggesting that I also paint. In the Chinese tradition, a painter must know calligraphy because the basic painting strokes are calligraphy strokes. However, a calligrapher does not necessarily need to know how to paint. After more than five years of calligraphy, maybe it is time to start flower painting. Maybe I have built up enough technique for it?

Returning to seal script

One of my goals this year was to learn running script. I studied it for a while, but then realized that it is a bit beyond me at this point. I was getting bits and pieces of it, but not grasping it entirely. I decided to take a break from running script and return to seal script.

My goal this time is to be able to write all of 說文部首, the radicals of 說文解字 (Suo Wen Jie Zi). I am systematically going through each radical and order and learning them. I’m practicing the radicals in layers: repeating one at a time, then two together (after practicing two), then four together (after practicing two sets of two).

I want to be able to write all the radicals at once. The aim is to practice to the point that I can recreate the style through muscle and visual memory. Then I should not need to look at the copy book and be able to write it out. That is when I know I have fully internalized the script.

This is the first time I am trying this type of in depth study with any script. Previously, I was mostly trying out different scripts, but not necessarily internalizing the script. I am excited to see where this experiment leads me.