Chinese seal carving: rubber stamps

A year ago I took a workshop to learn how to carve rubber stamps. The motivation for learning was as a stepping stone for carving seals. I decided to give it a try.

I used Blick Readycut for these stamps. The material has a grey upper layer and a white lower layer. To create the stamp, the grey layer is carved away.

In seal carving, there are two styles. 朱文 means red characters. 白文 means white characters. I tried both. I did 月 (the character for moon) in 甲骨文 (oracle bone script) and 篆書 (seal script).

Here are the 甲骨文 examples:

And the 篆書 examples:

I think it’s a pretty good start. The 朱文 style is definitely more difficult. Rubber is pretty flimsy, and the cut away portions would always touch the ink pad or paper when I pressed down. The material is also pretty thin. It’s probably not the best for 朱文.

This was a fun exercise. The stamps are not as small as regular seals, but I don’t think I have fine enough tools to do something that small on rubber. It does make me want to learn more about 甲骨文 since I have not practiced it my calligraphy studies.

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墨境 Ink Worlds at the Cantor Arts Center

There are only a couple of weeks left to see the exhibit “墨境 Ink Worlds: Contemporary Chinese Painting from the Collection of Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang” at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. For anyone who is interested in ink and Chinese art, this is definitely an exhibit to see.

I was really excited to see a piece of work by Tong Yang Tze.

There were also works by Lui Guo Song and Zhang Da Qian.

The exhibit covers many aspects of contemporary ink painting. I do recommend getting the exhibition catalogue. It explains a lot more than the exhibit itself. Abstract and contemporary art tends to be a response to past art. Without the background of the past works, it can be difficult to understand the current work. The catalogue goes into a lot more detail than the exhibit.

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?

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.

侯北人 Hau Bei Ren exhibit at the Los Altos History Museum

The Los Altos History Museum in Los Altos, California is currently showing an exhibit on the work of 侯北人 Hau Bei Ren. The exhibit is open until the end of the year, so there is only a couple of weeks left to enjoy the paintings on display.

侯北人 is a master of Chinese painting, especially the method of splash painting.

The exhibit does not have any works of just calligraphy, but there is some calligraphy on the wall in the entryway of the museum:

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My calligraphy teacher, 于君慧 Yu Chun Hui, is a student of 侯北人. I have also taken workshops from Robert Dvorak, who also studied with 侯北人 at one time. It was interesting to see the works of 侯北人, because I can see how he influenced my teachers. There were a few paintings that reminded me of exercises from Robert’s workshops.

I was really taken in by the color in the following two paintings. Even though the one on the left is of similar colors, somehow it evokes different colors as well. The one on the right mixes a lot of colors, but they blend in together seamlessly.

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As part of the exhibit, visitors can take a look at some books on the works of 侯北人. The museum store has a few books for sale, but are low on supply. The book I was interested in was sold out. However, the store is selling a very nice card set with three cards of different works.