Chinese Calligraphy

4Treasures

I have been interested in calligraphy for a long time and a trip to China in 2008 expanded that interest to include Chinese calligraphy. I was so fascinated that I purchased some calligraphy supplies while I was there.

One aspect of traditional Chinese calligraphy that I really love is the respect shown for calligraphy tools. They even call them the Four Treasures. These treasures are the brush, ink, paper and ink stone.

Brushes:  Calligraphy brushes are traditionally made with animal hair. As with paint brushes, different kinds of hair have different properties that affect the brush stroke. White hair in brushes is usually goat hair and are a bit softer so are good for large characters. I didn’t know anything about brushes when I bought mine in China and I actually like the slightly stiffer, brown haired brush (the one on the far right of the photo) I got when I took a Chinese calligraphy course from the Confucius Institute the following year. The course was advertised as being for all ages so I was a bit dismayed to discover most of the students were Chinese children. As I sat on my tiny chair I reassured myself that even though I may not understand Chinese like the kids did, I can sit still and listen like a pro so I had that going for me.

Brushes2

Ink: Ink sticks are generally made of soot that is mixed with glue and then pressed into a mold. The type of soot (pine, oil, charcoal, etc.) and other additives create different inks. Ink sticks are often decorated, as mine is, on both sides. Liquid sumi ink works well too.

Inkstick Inkstick reverse Ink

Inkstone: The inkstone is a shallow dish (with lid) used to grind the ink stick in a small amount of water to make the ink. This process takes about 15 minutes (depending on how dark you want your ink) and is considered an important meditative step to prepare yourself for creating calligraphy or to paint. Not all inkstones are made of stone, mine is ceramic, and many are beautifully decorated although I like the simplicity of mine.

Inkstone1

Paper: For calligraphy, the best paper is slightly absorbent. I have some rice paper that was bought locally but made in Japan. For practice purposes my calligraphy instructor suggested using paper towels like the type found in public washrooms or newsprint. We were given thin paper with guide lines printed on them for learning the characters in class.

Paper2 Practice2

There are other treasures too, like the seal and the seal ink. Seals (sometimes called a chop) are used like signatures. Typically made of stone, they are used with a thick paste-like red ink. I bought mine from a street vendor in Xian, China. It is supposed to be a translation of my name but I am not sure how well she understood me. There is something very aesthetically pleasing to me to have that small addition of red to the black and white of the ink and paper.

Chop1

If the Four Treasures were people, I image them as four ancient Chinese sages with long beards and silk robes that will impart their wisdom to anyone who will take the time to listen.

Rhodia Memo Book

Front Back

I recently won a little Rhodia Memo Book from https://www.rhodiadrive.com/. At 7.5 cm by 12 cm, this notebook is truly pocket sized. While I am not crazy about the orange cover, it does stand out in the clutter of my desk and I know these notebooks do come with white and black covers as well. I have previously reviewed the Rhodia graph paper so can vouch for the quality.

Centre

I plan to use my notebook during my next trip. Usually when I am travelling my days are packed so when it comes time to write a journal entry before bed, I am so tired that I just list all the things that I did. There is nothing wrong with this but I find my entries are much richer with detail if I jot down things I notice and am thinking about during the day in a little notebook. I generally just throw away these notes once I have recorded my journal entry but I  just may keep this little book with my travel journal.

If this notebook were a person, they would be definitely size small, neat and efficient with a love for being on the go.

Coming up next week:  a book review of The Perfection of the Paper Clip

Papyrus

papyrus

As the word ‘paper’ comes from the word papyrus, I was thinking of calling this week’s blog Margret Puts Pen to Papyrus. Although papyrus is associated with ancient Egypt, it is still made today (mainly as a tourist item) and my work buddy Neil got a hold of some for me to test. This sample also came with a handy guide to hieroglyphics.

hieroglyphics

First of all, I noticed how stiff and thick it is. You can clearly see how the fibres have been layered in such a way that it almost looks woven. Because the texture is quite coarse, I was surprised at how easily I could write on it. The fountain pen, sharpie and brush pen all went on smoothly with no feathering and did not bleed through to the other side. It also folds sharply without breaking. No wonder it is so durable that samples of papyrus thousands of years old still exist today.

tests

When I was in grade six our class studied ancient Egypt and we were each randomly assigned a different topic to write a report on and then illustrate on a large class mural. My topic was papyrus, both the plant and the paper made from it. I recall sketching in many clumps of papyrus along the banks of the Nile River, a much easier assignment than the Temple of Karnak.

As my memory on my grade six research is a little fuzzy, I did an online search of papyrus and found lots of information about the plant and paper, as well as other things called papyrus. For example, there is a font called Papyrus which surprisingly has several hate blogs. Sure, it’s not a font you want to use everyday but it’s no comic sans. There is also a comic book called Papyrus which spawned an animated series and Game Boy video game. In his graphic memoir, Shenzhen, French Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle shared his experience working on this series while living in China. It’s not his best book (I really liked Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City) but if you keep a special journal where you list all the books you’ve read in a year like I do, you find graphic memoirs are a great way of upping your book count.   

Fun fact from Wikipedia: Papyrus can also refer to a document written on sheets of papyrus joined together side by side and rolled up into a scroll, an early form of a book. The plural for such documents is papyri.

Although it seems too obvious, but if this sheet of papyrus was a person, it would be an Egyptian with olive skin, shiny black hair, eyes lined with kohl, a sly smile and great dance moves.