Last week the students had a chance to consolidate their skills and warm up for more challenges, after an eight weeks’ break.
Today I plan to go over the project, pointing out potential pitfalls. The plan of approach would be different from student to student, according to their experiences, strengths and weaknesses.
For John, the sole male, sole Aussie and sole illiterate in my class I have charted the simplest course: begin with characters with only horizontals and verticals: 一，日，山，里，目，上。His list includes words with ‘bends’ and ‘elbows’; strokes that join a horizontal to a vertical and vice versa. From there he’ll move on to 白，and 千 by adding a little ‘lift’ stroke to more verticals and horizontals and so on.
It is of paramount importance to have the verticals straight and the horizontals parallel to each other as well as having even intervals. These two points are the rhythm and tempo to the piece; they keep chaos at bay.
The other students will attempt to write the whole poem. If so, they must set out the work in the way they want to present it. The twenty characters may be written in a number of ways; for example:
The different arrangements may affect how they write each character because each character must consider its neighbours and those that come before and after. There must be suitable spacing between characters and between rows, leaving room for signature, title and dedication if desired.
A piece of calligraphy in the regular script is not like an army of soldiers in uniform that marches like a machine, each soldier matching the next as closely as possible. It is an orchestra, each instrument has its part in its harmonious whole.
In this poem, the character with one stroke only, 一 （one）, is like the soloist, being most exposed. 入，a duet and 山，千，上，trios. Each character is tightly woven into the whole yet each contributes to its harmony.
Students must also decide on the size of the piece. It is possible to practice large characters then reduce the piece to a smaller size but it would be difficult to attempt the reverse. So I encourage students to practice in the largest size they can manage.
Last week my talk was on repeated characters in a piece. Words that appear more than once must be written differently: variety is the key; not uniformity.
In our project there are no repeated characters, but there are repeated ‘parts’, motifs if you like. The characters 河，海，流 (river, sea, flow) belongs to the word family of ‘water’ – note the three dots on the left side of each word. Those three dots combo must be written differently in each of those characters in the piece.
Today we will work on the dots.