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.

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


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.

New goals

Going into a new year is a good time to rethink some goals and plans. This year was pretty eventful. I started learning pointed pen calligraphy. I started exploring running script in Chinese calligraphy. I even dabbled in some abstract watercolor.

In Chinese calligraphy, I will definitely continue with running script. At some point, I know I will probably want to switch to a different script. I could work on a standard script style that had hints of cursive script. Or I could start a different standard script style that I think will be an interesting match with English calligraphy.

I want to learn English brush calligraphy. I started with brush pens, but now I want to use an actual brush. It would complement my work in Chinese calligraphy and abstract watercolor. Brush pens require purchasing many pens for a variety of colors, but watercolors can be mixed for color variation.

I need to work on the basic drawing and color mixing skills. I have found two books by Betty Edwards that fit perfectly: “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” and “Color: A course in mastering the art of mixing colors”. I like that these books have guided exercises.

I want to develop a neat handwriting for those occasions where I need neat and nice handwriting, but calligraphy may not be appropriate. For the English alphabet, I will be working on French cursive. For Chinese, I have some books on improving writing and writing beautifully.

I really need to work on more projects during the year. I think the only major project I did this past year was red banners for Chinese New Year. I need to start focusing on producing actual works that can be mounted and exhibited.

These seem like a good starting point. I’m sure I will have more short term goals as the year goes on. Do you have major art goals for the coming year?

Practice and the time of day

I usually practice calligraphy at night, because that is when I have time. However, I noticed my latest watercolor practice did not turn out so well when I practiced at night.

Lighting may not matter so much with calligraphy, since I practice with black ink. Working with brush pens is ok too, since the color is a significant contrast from the paper.

I think I prefer natural light when working with watercolors. With watercolors, small differences matter, which may be more difficult for me to see under artificial light. I am new to watercolors, so I just might need more experience before I can figure out what happens under artificial light.

Do you prefer to practice during the day with natural light, or at night under artificial light? Do you think it makes a difference?