Author Topic: Learning basic Chinese calligraphy  (Read 286 times)

Offline A Smug Dill

  • Freshman Member
  • *
  • Posts: 9
  • Karma: 2
  • 三人行必有我師焉
    • View Profile
Learning basic Chinese calligraphy
« on: August 24, 2018, 04:37:49 AM »
Erica mentioned in the other thread in the Eastern Calligraphy section that she is interested in learning Chinese calligraphy.

The way I remember learning brush calligraphy as a schoolboy, was to try to reproduce glyphs of characters taken from the steles of this or that famous calligrapher (e.g. Wang Xizhi, Yan Zhenqing) from some past era, on grid paper with faint outlines of the characters already printed on them. Not only were we being shown the expected shapes of the glyphs; it also served as a visual feedback mechanism for whether the fall and rise of the brush in our hand were producing the right width variation along each stroke.

Of course, we had the advantage of prior knowledge of most if not all of the characters used for practice, and importantly, the stroke order for producing each of them; we were only being tutored in how to handle a brush instead of a pointed pen.

(By the way, I hated practising brush calligraphy back then, both the fill-in-the-outline exercises and writing freeform on plain paper.)

Fast forward some thirty-five years…

While looking for an updated English-Chinese dictionary in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore on the weekend, I came across several copies of a thin volume titled (in Chinese), Yan's Kaishu Brush Calligraphy With Water Forms (ISBN: 9787807139157), which contains little more than nineteen double-page spreads such as this:


Never mind the instructions/commentary in simplified Chinese, of which I as a reader of traditional Chinese can barely make out the meaning; the left side diagrammatically sets out:

  • proper sizing and positioning of the glyph within a square, and thus how glyphs would sit in relationship to each other;
  • the shapes, including ‘line variation’ within each stroke, and proportioning of constituents in each glyph; and
  • the trajectory of the brush to produce the indicated shape of each stroke.

The right-hand side of each spread is obviously for practice, and – doofus that I am, not considering what ‘With Water’ in the book's subtitle may have meant – I only just realised several days later that it's constructed such that when I wet it with clean water, the mark will come up very dark on the page as if it was painted on with ink, and then when it dries no mark will remain, so one can repeat the exercises again and again on the same page with a clean wet brush.

Now that I've realised what's special about it, for A$3.50 a copy, I think I'll go and buy the whole stack from that store. An online currency conversion calculator tells me that the RMB price printed on the back cover of the book works out to about A$2.98, so I certainly don't feel ripped off. I had a quick look online the other night for that ISBN, and the offers on Abebooks all ridiculously ask for prices north of US$43 plus shipping.

What's ‘missing’, though, for folks who haven't already learnt written Chinese but nevertheless have an interest in Chinese calligraphy, is the correct stroke order. I also bought a ‘dictionary’ that shows in-the-square positioning, stroke count and stroke order of each character (alas, in simplified Chinese only) as a kaishu glyph:

but this purchase wasn't such fantastic value; I paid A$20 for what, according to the price printed on the back cover by the publisher, works out to A$5.86.

I apologise for not being able to recommend titles containing the same or equivalent information but with English prefaces and commentary at the moment, because I simply cannot find any for perusal, either around here or on Amazon.

Offline Erica McPhee

  • Administrator
  • Super Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5117
  • Karma: 290
  • Be brave. Love life!
    • View Profile
    • Dasherie Magazine
Re: Learning basic Chinese calligraphy
« Reply #1 on: August 24, 2018, 07:01:35 AM »
Wow! What a great find! It does seem like an excellent way to learn. Thank you for sharing and we look forward to seeing more of your work.  :D
Truly, Erica
Lettering/Design Artist, Homeopath, Photographer, Mom, Wife
Dasherie Magazine | Paperwhite Studio | Instagram | Facebook

Offline A Smug Dill

  • Freshman Member
  • *
  • Posts: 9
  • Karma: 2
  • 三人行必有我師焉
    • View Profile
Re: Learning basic Chinese calligraphy
« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2018, 07:47:38 PM »
I just found this great resource online that offers positioning, stroke count and stroke order information:
(example) https://strokeorder.com.tw/每.html

Unfortunately, it does not allow users to perform look-ups by English transliteration of the character, and the only options are to enter a character into the search bar (by copy-and-paste, or by scribbling a character on the trackpad of a notebook or the screen of a tablet that has been configured to accept Chinese input), or click on one of the character links on the page if the user is able to visually identify what he or she is looking for.