Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Chinese Language in All Its Forms - Basics of Calligraphy

 The Four Treasures of Study

Calligraphy being an art, Chinese calligraphers ensure they use quality tools. There are four essential tools, which are called "The Four Treasures of Study". These are the brush, ink, ink stone, and paper.

Brush, Ink Well, and Ink Stick
Photo Credit: Theen Moy

We bought our supplies from a local art supply store, though I am itching to get a traditional Chinese calligraphy set.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Pack
Jumbo Calligraphy Brushes
Photo Credit: William Li

Brushes come in many different sizes, and are made from animal hair, such as goat and weasel, glued into a handle, which is typically made of bamboo. The different hairs used create different lines and feel different - for example goat hairs are soft and  weasel hairs are stiff.

Chinese ink is made from the soot of pine branches, which is then mixed with glue and herbs, molded into a stick and dried. To use an ink stick, you rub it against an ink stone with a little water to make liquid ink.

Ink Slab
Photo Credit: Conor
An ink stone is used to mix the ink with water. It is made from a slab of stone, with a small pool carved into it. They should have a rough texture to ensure proper grinding of the ink stick. Beautiful ink stones can be seen at this Flickr photostream.

Photo Credit: Simen S.
The fourth treasure is paper. Though called rice paper, Chinese paper is not made of rice, but generally made from the pith of a plant called the rice paper plant, of mulberry fibers or of bamboo. Different papers absorb the ink differently, giving the final calligraphy a different look.

Along with the four treasures, it is helpful to have a felt mat (which is placed under paper when writing), and a container to rinse the brushes. Traditional kits also have brush holders, paper weights, and a chop seal (something we'll be making ourselves in the next few weeks).

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