Goal check-in

Since it is halfway through the year, it seems like a good time to check in on my goals. I did not specifically set my goals as year-long goals. It might even be time to change some goals.

I did accomplish learning French cursive. I feel reasonably comfortable with French cursive, although it will take some more practice since it is much different from my regular handwriting.

I have not started working on writing Chinese beautifully with pen or pencil. I do have some new tools to start working on it. I really do want to get to that soon.

Running script is still my current focus for Chinese calligraphy. I have some ideas for works, but it will take some planning and practice.

I am putting drawing aside for the time being, even though I do not really want to. I really need to focus on colors. But maybe I can have a simple goal of having one drawing exercise done a month.

There were some things that I explored that were not part of my original goals. I have been exploring splash ink and abstract watercolor on different types of Chinese paper. I think this brings a new dimension to my Chinese calligraphy, and is something that I will continue doing.

I took a workshop on carving stamps. There is a relation to carving and Chinese calligraphy because of the art of making seals. I do not know if I will learn how to carve seals in the future, but learning basic stamp carving seems to be a step in that direction.

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Pop-Up Meditation at the Asian Art Museum

I had the chance to attend two Pop-Up Meditation events at the Asian Art Museum. The first workshop was on mindfulness and tea, where we learned to use our senses in the practice of brewing and drinking tea. The second workshop was a guided meditation.

Chinese calligraphy is often described as a form of meditation. When I first started Chinese calligraphy, I definitely felt calmed and focused. However, lately I have felt calligraphy has been rolled into the frenzy of life. When I start a practice session, I think about future projects and which scripts to learn next. It became clear to me that I was losing the the meditative side of calligraphy, and needed to work on meditation separately.

I see working on meditation separately similar to an athlete doing strength and conditioning separate from practicing their sport. Practicing calligraphy has become time for me to work on my technique, and develop my art. But working on my meditation will help me center myself to be able to produce the best work possible. I hope by working on meditation separately, I will then be able to work it back into my calligraphy practice.

墨條斷裂了 Broken ink sticks

美國加州和臺灣最大的不同是濕氣。臺灣的濕氣比較重,美國舊金山灣區比較乾。因為濕氣的不同,墨條有可能會斷裂。墨條斷裂後的墨塊很難用來磨墨。幸好我有找到墨條夾子。用墨條夾子比較容易拿墨塊磨墨。平常用墨條夾子是因為墨條磨到沒辦法拿的時候。可是墨條斷裂的時候,只能靠墨條夾子來拿墨塊。

A major issue I have been having is broken ink sticks. Since the humidity in the U.S. is lower than the humidity in Taiwan, the ink sticks that I bring from Taiwan have a tendency to break apart. It’s really hard to use ink sticks when they are in pieces. Sometimes I am able to put together the smaller pieces to form a larger piece, but it can be an inky mess.

I found three ink stick holders at John Neal Bookseller. The ink stick comes in one size and is described as being able to handle larger ink sticks. The Bamboo ink stick comes in two sizes: small and large.

I ended up getting all three ink stick holders. I could not tell which one would fit my broken ink stick, since it has raised edges. I also figured any of the holders would come in handy in the future since I do have different size ink sticks.

The basic construction is the same: two pieces of wood or bamboo, and something to attach the two pieces to hold the ink stick. The wood version uses a screw and wing nut. The bamboo versions have a round piece of bamboo that can be shifted down the center cutout.

The only holder that can hold my current ink stick is the wooden one. This ink stick is pretty thick, and has an extra raised edges around the front and the back. The ink holder holds the ink stick pretty well. Both are the same width. The ink stick holder also opens enough to clasp around the raised edge.

The ink stick holder definitely helps with gripping a small piece of ink stick. Even though the holder extends the ink stick, I still prefer to hold the holder closer to the ink stick. It seems more stable that way. These ink stick holders are a great addition to my calligraphy toolbox, since now I can keep using my ink sticks even if they are in pieces.

Breakthrough with Copperplate calligraphy

This year, I intended to take a break from practicing pointed pen. I was going to pick it up later in the year or sometime next year. I decided to write something with I pointed pen because it was the appropriate tool. Little did I know, it would result in a breakthrough in my understanding of pointed pen calligraphy.

Since I had been practicing French cursive, I decided to write French cursive in pointed pen. I was not sure how it was going to turn out, or if it was going to work. Since there is not an angle or slant in French cursive, I used a straight pen holder.

It actually turned out pretty good. There are a few places where the straight strokes are not consistently straight. But I think it works, especially since I did not use a pointed pen for a few months. I wrote this with a straight holder because the strokes are straight and not slanted. Not having to maintain the letters at an angle really calmed me down. I felt I was really able to write with the pointed pen.

Even thought I wrote with a straight holder, I still felt that the nib was too stiff. I was using a Tachiwara G nib. I picked through a collection of nibs to find one that works. I needed something that was flexible enough so I would not have to put too much pressure on the pen. The Hunt 22 seemed to work well for me. It placed the right amount of ink when I wanted thick strokes. It also felt really smooth.

Since I found the right nib for the straight pen, I decided to try it on the oblique pen. The nib felt really good in the oblique pen. And since I was not so focused on the amount of pressure I needed to create thick strokes, I was finally able to take a good look at the pen and paper in front of me. I figured out the alignment of the front of the pen staff and the lines on the paper. If I kept the front of the pen staff parallel to the lines on the paper, the nib would always be at the angle of the flange. This way the movement of the pen will always create angled shapes. I finally figured out how to create and maintain a slant for Copperplate!

Once I was no longer having fatigue in my hand due to the nib, I noticed that I was becoming less comfortable with the grip on the pen holder. I make a point to not grip tightly. But I noticed that the small diameter of the pen holder caused my hands to cramp. I had the same feeling a few weeks ago with a slim fountain pen. I decided to try carrot pen holders, which are thicker in grip diameter. The carrot pen holder felt much better in my hand. My hand may fatigue due to holding the pen for a long time, but it did not cramp.

While trying the carrot holder, I also tried a few more nibs. I found out I really do not like to break in a nib, but would rather use a nib with which I can start writing. I really like the feel of the Hiro/ Leonardt 40 nib. It does not take a lot of pressure for the tines to open, but it also does not feel too delicate. A similar nib is the Brause Steno 361, which I also tried. The Brause Steno 361 is much stiffer than the Hiro/ Leonardt 40 and was too stiff for me. I will continue to use the Hiro/ Leonardt 40 nib.

It feels really good to finally have pointed pen tools that work for me. My hand still gets a little sore from practicing, but not as bad as before. I really still need to practice my shapes and letters. I find it funny that I now understand pointed pen more when I wanted to step away from it compared to when I was trying really hard working on it. At the same time, it shows that my decision to focus on French cursive (and then potentially revisit Copperplate) was the right decision. I was able to focus on the familiar and use it to associate with the unfamiliar. Now I feel like I’m prepared for this Copperplate calligraphy adventure!

Watercolor Brush Lettering workshop with Nicole Miyuki Santo

In the beginning of the year, I was able to attend a workshop by Nicole Miyuki Santo. I first noticed Nichole’s work on her Instagram, and was really happy to find out she was holding a workshop near me. It was a great workshop where we learned the basics of watercolor brush lettering.

A major bonus of Nicole’s classes is that all the supplies come in a reusable wood box. It contains all the paints and paper for the class. There is a handout with notes. And there are additional paints to play with at home.

It was a great workshop. We learned beginning brush strokes and practiced some letters. Then we worked on putting the letters together to form words. Nicole coached us every step of the way. We also discussed how to form a final design.

I learned a lot about brush control for writing English. My experience with Chinese calligraphy and watercolor helped a bit in the sense that I was not new to using a brush and watercolors. My experience with brush pen lettering seemed to help as well. But with any new tool there are different adjustments to make.

I really like Nicole’s approach to design and style. Even though we were practicing her style to understand shapes and brush strokes, she also emphasized that each person’s handwriting is different, so we would have different styles to writing letters. It reminds me of the way we learn Chinese calligraphy, where we learn different styles of different calligraphers, but in the end we also develop our own style.

Back at home, I decided to apply my knowledge of watercolor brush calligraphy to French cursive. I used it as the basis for handletteredABCs February challenge on Instagram.

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It was really fun and my letter ‘R’ was even featured!

I really like using watercolors for calligraphy. Colors can be mixed to create new ones. One brush stroke can also create different values, resulting in a gradient. I’m excited to create more English calligraphy with watercolor.

French cursive majuscules

I knew before I started that majuscules (upper case letters) would be more difficult for me than miniscules (lower case letters). Some letters were easier than others depending on the similarity to my regular handwriting. There are also a lot more loops in the majuscules compared to the miniscules.

I had trouble remembering how to write certain letters. It took a lot more practice to get to the point where I could write the letter from memory. I think it was good practice and a good lesson. A lot of practice is necessary to develop the muscle memory to produce consistent letters.

I found one fun way to practice majuscules is to practice spelling or phonetic alphabets. There is one word per letter of the alphabet. Those in the U.S. may be familiar with the NATO phonetic alphabet. I have written out the French spelling alphabet:

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I think I have a pretty good grasp of the majuscules and French cursive in general. It is not perfect, and there are plenty of places for improvement. But I think it is a good start, and I have seen improvement in other aspects of my calligraphy practice. I will keep practicing French cursive to make sure I maintain and improve this form of handwriting.

Calligraphy for Lunar New Year

Since I have been practicing running script, I was originally going to write Lunar New year banners in running script. But I quickly realized that I was not familiar enough with the script and felt really frustrated. I decided to write in standard script. I took my inspiration from the Yan script, but did not follow it exactly.

Last year I used Red with Gold Fleck Shuen paper from OAS. Unfortunately, the paper was rather thin, and absorbed more ink than I expected. It was also difficult to attach to the wall without damaging the paper. This year, I used banner paper from OAS. The paper comes in large sheets. When I started measuring and cutting, I realized I should look into pre-cut paper. It was a hassle to cut the banners, and took quite a bit of time.

The red banner paper has the consistency of wrapping paper. The paper is also slightly texturized with flower imprints. It also has a slight perfume smell that reminds me of wedding invitations. This paper does not absorb any ink at all. But I still had to make sure the ink had the same consistency as usual. I noticed if the ink was not thick enough, there would be some show through of the red paper.

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Part of writing calligraphy is working with the paper. Regular paper absorbs the ink. Different pressures of the brush results in different stroke widths. Writing on banner paper was very different because it did not respond the same. There still needed to be some pressure, but the speed of the brush needed to be faster to create the same strokes.

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I am definitely going to need more practice with the banner paper. I do not think these turned out as good as the ones from last year. It will probably be awhile before I fully understand the speed and pressure necessary to create the same strokes that I make on regular calligraphy paper.

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I also decorated my own red envelopes this year, instead of buying printed envelopes. I decided to use mica watercolor from Finetec because it is available in different colors, and are all very shiny and metallic. I had the idea to use gold and different hues of red. But I decided to stay with just one gold letter.

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I initially had some trouble with the envelopes because the paper was really waxy. It was difficult for ink to stay. It would bead up instead. I ended up treating the envelopes with gum sandarac, which really helped hold the ink. Similar to the banners, I had some trouble with the pressure and speed to get the same strokes. But I think it actually turned out pretty good in the end.

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I did have some issues when it came time to use the envelopes. When I opened the envelope, the paper became wrinkled and the gold ink flaked off. The photo above shows places where ink fell off. In the envelope on the left, there is even a flake of ink under the envelope. I was pretty disappointed when this happened. Perhaps a layer of clear acrylic could have to prevented this problem.

Even though these projects did not turn out as well as I thought they would, I actually learned a lot. I definitely need more time to practice and experiment with these different ink and paper combinations. This is also the first time I tried writing on something that had to be used, like the envelope. So far I have only used standard ink and paper combinations, so these projects were a challenge. I will definitely need to experiment further during the year to make sure I can do my best for next Lunar New Year.