General Categories > Eastern Calligraphy

Learning basic Chinese calligraphy

(1/2) > >>

A Smug Dill:
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.

Erica McPhee:
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

A Smug Dill:
I just found this great resource online that offers positioning, stroke count and stroke order information:

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.

An additional resource:

Fortunately, once you learn some basic rules, it's easy to figure out stroke order for any character.

that looks like a great resource to keep practicing your characters without having to go through reams of paper. Newsprint also works quite well with brush and ink for practicing either calligraphy or brush painting, and is not terribly expensive. Place a large piece of felt on the table and place a single sheet of newsprint on it and that works quite well.

I was just "OK" with handling a brush for ink painting, but could never get my calligraphy with a brush as good as my handwriting with a pencil. That's all gone now. 24 years on now not using Chinese and it's almost all gone.


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

Go to full version