How to write chinese calligraphy

Introduction to Chinese Calligraphy

Chinese calligraphy has a rich history spanning thousands of years. Its origins can be traced back to engraved writings on bones and tortoise shells dating as far back as the Shang dynasty around 1600 BCE. As Chinese civilization progressed through the dynasties, calligraphy emerged as one of China’s highest art forms, revered for its beauty and cultural significance.

Calligraphy is considered an integral part of Chinese culture. The written word carries great meaning, and the art of calligraphy is highly esteemed. Beautiful handwriting is associated with wisdom, education, and refinement. Calligraphy also represents a meditative practice that requires great focus, discipline and mastery of technique. It is an artform that harmoniously combines Visual art, poetry, and self cultivation.

To create beautiful calligraphy, one must have patience and dedicate regular practice to perfecting brush strokes and techniques. It is an artform that cannot be rushed. The precision and fluidity of each brush stroke emerges only after long hours refining motor skills and hand-eye coordination. But the payoff is great, as one masters an ancient Chinese artform that is as rewarding as it is serene.

Materials for Chinese Calligraphy

Having the right materials and tools is essential for beginning your journey into Chinese calligraphy. As a beginner, start with high quality supplies that are designed for learners. This will make your practice easier and more enjoyable.


The primary tool for Chinese calligraphy is a specialized brush. These brushes come in a variety of sizes and shapes. For beginners, opt for a medium sized brush with soft hair bristles. Avoid brushes promoted for kids as the quality tends to be poor. Wolf, weasel, goat and rabbit hair bristles are suitable options. The handle should feel comfortable and balanced. Well-crafted brushes will hold their shape better and allow for consistent strokes.


Choose acid free rice paper or mulberry paper that is smooth and won’t absorb too much ink. Stay away from newsprint or other low quality paper options. Look for loose sheets or small practice pads designed for calligraphy, rather than sketchbooks. The paper should have a bit of grip and texture but not be overly toothy. Lay your paper at an angle rather than flat to allow smooth brush movement.


Ink sticks, ink stones and an ink bottle are necessary for mixing traditional Chinese calligraphy ink. Beginners may want to opt for premixed liquid ink in a bottle to simplify the process. Look for carbon ink that is water soluble. Make sure to have black and gray ink on hand. The gray will allow you to add dimension and shading to strokes.

Care and Storage

Clean brushes carefully after each use and allow them to fully dry, with the bristles facing up. Store brushes upright or laying flat, but never bristle-side down. Keep paper in a cool, dry place away from humidity. Tightly seal ink bottles and avoid exposure to sunlight, which can cause fading. With proper care, your calligraphy supplies will last for many practice sessions.

Basic Techniques and Principles

Mastering the fundamentals of Chinese calligraphy requires learning proper brush holding techniques, ink preparation methods, and understanding the core principles that guide stroke composition. With repetition and practice, these basics will become second nature.

Holding the Brush

Unlike a pen or pencil, Chinese calligraphy brushes are held vertically, perpendicular to the paper. Grip the bottom end of the brush handle between your thumb and middle finger. Rest the brush against your index finger for support. Hold it like you would hold a microphone or chopstick. Relax your grip to allow the brush to move freely.

Preparing the Ink

Use an ink stick to grind a small amount of ink powder into an ink stone dish filled with water. Grind the stick in a circular motion until the desired ink tone and consistency is reached. The ink should flow smoothly off the brush.

The 8 Principles of Yong

The 8 Principles of Yong form the foundation of Chinese calligraphy. They guide how to compose balanced, harmonious strokes and characters:

  • Ping – Flat
  • Ze – Straight
  • Heng – Horizontal
  • Shu – Upright
  • Zhuan – Turn
  • Li – Stand
  • Dian – Dot
  • Gou – Hook

Mastering these 8 basic strokes and understanding their direction of movement is key before advancing to full characters.

Differences Between English and Chinese Calligraphy

Though they share some basic principles, Chinese and English calligraphy are vastly different art forms. Some key differences include:

Aesthetic Differences

Chinese calligraphy follows an artistic aesthetic that values balance, structure, and fluidity within each character. English calligraphy often has more creative flourishes. Chinese calligraphy focuses on the beauty within each individual character rather than fully composed passages.

Stroke Roles

In Chinese calligraphy, every stroke has a specific position and purpose within the character. English letters can be written with more flexibility. Chinese calligraphy also utilizes distinct brushstrokes that create thickness variations within each line.

Adapting Skills

Many principles like posture, brush grip and paper position carry over from English calligraphy. However, the stroke techniques and character structures require adaptation. One cannot simply write the English alphabet with a Chinese brush – learning the individual strokes is essential.

Styles of Chinese Calligraphy

There are many different styles of Chinese calligraphy that have developed over thousands of years. Each style has its own distinct aesthetic qualities and characteristics. The main styles of calligraphy include:

Regular Script

Regular script (kaishu) is the most common and standard style of Chinese calligraphy. It emerged over 2,000 years ago and features orderly, neat strokes with uniform thickness. Regular script is very legible and lends itself well to teaching beginners.

Cursive Script

Cursive script (caoshu) flows smoothly without lifting the brush from the paper. The characters are often connected together into a free flowing style. Cursive script conveys the artistic, expressive side of calligraphy.

Semi-Cursive Script

Semi-cursive script (xingshu) is a hybrid between regular and cursive styles. The strokes are fluid but each character is still distinct. This popular style provides readability along with artistic flair.

Seal Script

Seal script (zhuanshu) emulates the brush strokes used in engraved seals. The characters have thick and thin strokes that taper playfully. Seal script appears more abstract and requires significant skill to master.

Choosing a Style

For beginners, starting with regular script allows you to learn the fundamental strokes and build skills. As you improve, you can experiment with more cursive styles. Learning from a teacher is the best way to receive guidance on choosing the right style to match your goals and skill level.

Simplified vs. Traditional Chinese Calligraphy

Chinese calligraphy is written using either simplified or traditional characters. Simplified Chinese was developed in the 1950s as a way to increase literacy rates. It contains fewer strokes per character, making it generally faster to write. Traditional Chinese preserves the form of characters used for thousands of years. It contains more complex strokes and forms.

Simplified Chinese has the advantage of being easier to learn, especially for beginners. The reduction in strokes speeds up writing and improves literacy among Chinese language learners. However, some nuances and etymology can be lost with simplified characters. On the other hand, traditional Chinese allows more artistic expression and connection to historical roots, but takes longer to master. The added complexity of strokes poses a challenge for those first learning.

In general, it’s recommended for beginners to start with simplified Chinese calligraphy first. Once basics are mastered, one can branch out into traditional forms. With practice, both simplified and traditional calligraphy can be used together in a work of art or writing.

Warm-up and Practice Exercises

Warming up before starting any calligraphy session is crucial. Just like athletes warm up before games and performances, calligraphers need to properly prepare their minds, hands, and materials. Rushing into writing without warming up often leads to unsatisfactory results and can even encourage bad habits. Here are some tips for effective calligraphy warm-up routines:

First, take a few minutes to steady your mind. Calligraphy requires great focus and concentration, so take some deep breaths and clear your thoughts before you begin. You may find light stretching or meditation helpful to get centered and grounded.

Next, warm up your wrists, fingers, and hands. Gentle circular motions and stretching will increase blood flow and limber up the muscles. This helps prevent cramps and fatigue while writing. You can roll a small ball or dowel in your palms to activate the muscles.

Do some simple practice strokes using your brushes and ink. Work on basic flicks, presses, and releases on scrap paper. Focus on maintaining good brush angles and controlling pressure. This will prepare your hands for the intricate strokes to come.

Once your mindset is focused and hands warmed up, start tracing some individual strokes or simple characters. Pay attention to proper stroke order and technique. Flow through the motions smoothly and naturally. You may want to practice the numbers 1-10, as these combine many fundamental strokes.

Be patient during warm-ups. Rushing defeats the purpose. Settle into the process and get into an optimal mental and physical state before tackling complex calligraphy. Taking time to warm up is essential for long-term improvement and avoiding fatigue or sloppy writing.

Developing Your Calligraphy Technique

Once you have a grasp of the fundamentals of Chinese calligraphy, you can start focusing on refining your technique. With regular practice, you’ll be able to write characters with elegance and artistry.

Here are some tips for developing your calligraphy skills:

Improving Stroke Consistency

Consistent strokes are key to beautiful calligraphy. Pay close attention to the direction, thickness, and flow of each stroke. Strive to make your strokes uniform in length and curvature.

Use guide sheets under thin paper to perfect the shape and size of strokes. Focus on problem characters and break down strokes one-by-one.

Be patient and keep a measure next to you for size checking. With daily practice, your strokes will become increasingly steady and uniform.

Mastering Balance and Composition

Well-balanced composition separates great calligraphy from mediocre. Remember that characters are written in an invisible square and proper proportions must be maintained.

Balance the thickness of strokes and leave appropriate negative space inside and around characters. Align columns cleanly when writing sentences or passages.

Use guidelines on your paper and pay attention to the tip placement of your brush. Let the characteristics of the style you are practicing guide the overall composition.

Incorporating Artistic Expression

Once you have developed solid technique, you can bring in more of your own creative flair. Vary the thickness and curvature of strokes subtly to add liveliness.

Make aesthetic choices on spacing between columns and rows. Use ink tones and paper textures to complement your writing.

Let your inner artist shine through by illustrating characters with complementary symbols or scenery. Developing your own artistic style will make calligraphy uniquely meaningful.

Practice and Improvement

Mastering Chinese calligraphy requires dedication, routine practice, and learning from your mistakes. Setting clear goals, establishing regular practice times, and being open to experimentation will help you improve your skills.

Set both long-term and short-term goals to give your practice direction and motivation. Your long-term goal may be mastering a certain style, while short-term goals can be learning 5 new characters per week. Track your progress to stay on target.

Establish a consistent routine for practice. Set aside at least 15-30 minutes daily to practice calligraphy. Be patient and keep at it – with regular practice, your strokes will become more fluid and balanced. Practice the basic strokes as a warm-up before writing characters.

Don’t be discouraged by mistakes – they are part of the learning process. Analyze what went wrong and make adjustments. Pay attention to the shape, size, spacing, and relative proportions of strokes. Be willing to experiment with different brush techniques.

Learning Chinese calligraphy takes time and dedication, but staying focused on your goals, following a routine practice schedule, and maintaining a positive learning mindset will help you steadily improve your skills and find joy in the journey.

Learning Opportunities

There are various ways to supplement your independent practice of Chinese calligraphy with more formal instruction. Taking advantage of learning opportunities can accelerate your progress through expert guidance.

In-Person Workshops

Attending calligraphy workshops is an excellent way to learn. In a hands-on classroom setting, you can receive real-time feedback and instruction from experienced teachers. Workshops allow you to ask questions, troubleshoot problems, and connect with fellow calligraphy students. Look for workshops at local art centers, colleges, libraries, or museums.

Online Courses

If in-person workshops are not feasible, online Chinese calligraphy courses offer similar benefits. Through video lessons, you can learn from master calligraphers around the world. Online courses provide structure and a progressive curriculum to follow. Features like discussion forums allow for community learning. From free introductions to comprehensive programs, online courses make instruction accessible.

Finding a Mentor

Nothing substitutes first-hand guidance from an experienced calligrapher. Seeking out a personal mentor tailors instruction to your exact needs. A mentor can observe your technique, identify areas for improvement, and provide practice assignments. Local calligraphy associations and art networks can help connect you with potential mentors. You may also reach out to calligraphy teachers from workshops or online classes.