How to Write Chinese Calligraphy

Introduction to Chinese Calligraphy

Chinese calligraphy has a long and rich history dating back thousands of years. Unlike Western calligraphy where the aim is often artistic, Chinese calligraphy developed from early forms of Chinese writing and evolved into a revered artform deeply rooted in Chinese culture.

The origins of Chinese calligraphy can be traced back to inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells during the Shang dynasty between 1600-1046 BCE. As Chinese writing developed over the dynasties, calligraphy became a way for the literati and scholars to express themselves artistically through writing. Different scripts and styles emerged, each reflecting the unique brushwork and temperament of the calligrapher.

By the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), calligraphy had become one of the most appreciated arts in imperial China, practiced by Confucian scholars, poets, painters and government officials. It remains an important part of Chinese culture today, with calligraphy displays, competitions and classes taking place around the world.

Unlike Western calligraphy which relies on pens with flat nibs, Chinese calligraphy uses brushes made with animal hair which can produce lines of varying thickness. The flexibility of the brush allows for great expression in each stroke. Chinese also differs from Western scripts in the relationship between characters, strokes, structure and composition to represent meaning.

Mastering Chinese calligraphy requires diligence in perfecting brush technique and the foundational skills over years of practice. But the beauty of Chinese calligraphy continues to captivate people globally as both an artform and a window into Chinese culture.

Materials for Chinese Calligraphy

To practice the art of Chinese calligraphy, it is essential to have high quality materials. The four key supplies are brushes, ink, paper, and an ink stone.

Brushes

Chinese calligraphy brushes come in various sizes but are typically made using soft animal hair like goat, rabbit, wolf, or even mouse hair. The hairs are tapered to a fine point which allows variation in line width. Brush tips are also categorized as hard or soft depending on their flexibility. Softer brushes are ideal for beginners.

Ink

The most common ink used is carbon black or charcoal-based ink sticks which are ground into liquid ink on the ink stone. This ink is water resistant which prevents smearing once dry. Colored inks are also available but black is the traditional choice.

Paper

Rice paper is the classic choice, and its absorbent texture helps the ink soak in evenly. Look for smoother xuan paper rather than very textured shuan paper to start. Practice paper pads are convenient and sized for learning.

Ink Stone

A basic ink stone with a water reservoir carved into it allows grinding an ink stick to produce fresh ink for calligraphy. They are traditionally made of natural stone but can also be ceramic or other materials. Keep it level by placing on a padded stand.

Styles of Chinese Calligraphy

Chinese calligraphy has evolved over thousands of years into various distinctive styles. Here we will explore some of the major styles that are still practiced today.

Oracle Style

Oracle style, also known as bronze inscription style, was used for inscriptions on bronze artifacts from the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Characters are angular and symmetrical, with straight strokes meeting at sharp angles. This style emerged around 1200 BCE and was the dominant form of writing until the Han dynasty.

Clerical Style

Clerical script emerged in the Han dynasty around 200 BCE and remained popular through the 6th century CE. Compared to oracle style, clerical style characters have more curved strokes and greater asymmetry. Strokes tend to vary more in thickness, and characters are often written more quickly with a brush than oracle style.

Regular Style

Regular script evolved from clerical script in the Eastern Han dynasty, around 100 CE. Strokes are generally less angular than clerical style, with more tapered ends and graceful curves. Regular style became the dominant style by the 7th century and remains one of the most widely used styles today.

Running Style

Running style emerged from regular style and became popular during the Tang dynasty around 700 CE. Strokes are often connected or run into each other, allowing faster writing. Characters may be abbreviated or simplified compared to regular script. Running style lends itself to a lively, spontaneous aesthetic.

Techniques for Writing Chinese Calligraphy

To master the art of Chinese calligraphy, it is essential to learn proper technique. From stroke order to hand position and movement, every detail matters when writing Chinese characters. With practice, you can refine your technique and develop elegance in your calligraphy.

Stroke order is very important in Chinese calligraphy. Each character is written using a specific number and sequence of individual strokes. Sticking to the proper stroke order allows your calligraphy to have natural flow and beauty. It also helps train muscle memory so you can eventually write faster and with more fluidity. Make sure to look up the correct stroke order for each new character you learn.

Holding the brush properly is key for control and comfort. Grip the brush vertically between your thumb and middle finger, resting it against your index finger for support. Keep your wrist and arm relaxed as you write. A tight grip or tense muscles make fluid strokes difficult.

Use your whole arm to guide brush movement, not just your fingers or wrist. Movements should flow from your shoulder for broader strokes and your elbow and wrist for finer details. Lifting your arm between strokes helps create definition.

Varying pressure controls line variation in calligraphy. Press harder at the start of strokes then lighten up. Use just the tip with light pressure for thin lines and the belly with heavier pressure for thick lines. Speed also affects line variation. Write faster for thinner lines and slower for thicker lines.

Refine these core techniques through regular, mindful practice to steadily improve your Chinese calligraphy skills over time.

Practicing and Improving

To truly master Chinese calligraphy, consistent practice is essential. The more you practice writing the various strokes and characters, the more fluid and natural your movements will become. With regular practice, your technique will be refined and your skill will steadily improve.

Here are some tips to get the most out of your practice sessions:

  • Set aside time each day dedicated solely to calligraphy practice. Treat it as you would any other important activity.
  • Focus on quality, not quantity during practice. It’s better to thoughtfully write a few characters than to scribble many forms mindlessly.
  • Pay attention to your posture, grip, and movements. Be mindful as you write each stroke.
  • Vary the characters and words you practice. Don’t just repeat the same easy forms.
  • Study calligraphy masters and analyze their techniques. Isolate elements to emulate.
  • Be patient with yourself as you improve. Progress takes dedicated time and effort.

Some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Using too much pressure and tensing your muscles as you write.
  • Holding the brush at an incorrect angle.
  • Inconsistent proportions and sizes of strokes and characters.
  • Forgetting key principles like balance and structure as you write.
  • Not varying the thickness and thinness of strokes for dynamic effect.

Refine your technique by analyzing your practice efforts. Look for areas needing improvement and focus on those during your next session. With mindful, deliberate practice and self-critique, your calligraphy skills will steadily improve.