Back to more tools

A while ago I decided I was dealing with too many tools and wanted to only use brush for both Chinese and English calligraphy. But recently I realized that I really need to work on using other tools, and added another tool: the pencil.

I was working on some English brush calligraphy when I really needed thinner upstrokes. The only way I could create those strokes were with a pointed nib. Out came all the pointed pen supplies: pen holders, nibs, ink, and ink wells. I started looking at some books and materials, and have been inspired to return to pointed pen. It’s the only way to create those luscious thicks and thins!

This was enough to spark more interest, and now I have taken out the parallel pens. Maybe I’ll start practicing broad nib calligraphy as well. Of course then I had to take out some special fountain pens and brush pens.

How does the pencil fit into all this?

I have been reading some books lately on calligraphy and how to practice. A common theme is to practice with a pencil first before picking up a tool (such as a pointed pen or brush). Often this is for creating muscle memory for practice. Now I’ve added the pencil to my common calligraphy tools.

It doesn’t look like you can keep any calligraphy tools away from me for very long!

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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.

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.

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.

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.