Children like to ask why. I like to ask how. After all, when you know how, you know why because when you ask why, you are asking how come? I keep that in mind when I am teaching Chinese Calligraphy. People say it’s hard; it’s hard to learn so it must be hard to teach. Nothing can be simpler when you know how.
Teaching is not my profession and neither is Chinese Calligraphy so I had to devise a way to teach it by making it simple for myself:
- Start with the use of tools – brush, ink, paper. Just as you can’t write a poem without a vocabulary and a sense of rhyme and rhythm or build a cabinet without woodworking skills, a student of Chinese Calligraphy must have their bricks and mortar, and you can’t make bricks without straw.
- Stroke by Stroke – every Chinese character is made of one or more strokes. There is a finite number of strokes but in combination, tens of thousands of characters can be created (think Lego). Once the students learnt how to ‘read’ each stroke and thereby know how to create it, there is no character that they cannot write.
- Spacing – there is a relative size between characters and this is defined by the space around each of them – e.g. 龜 would have less space around it than 人。 Correct spacing between characters and between columns of character must also be observed.
- Rules of writing – Chinese characters are written in a particular sequence of strokes. Learning these rules of sequence means that student can approach each character with confidence even if they are illiterate, provided that they’d learnt the shape of the strokes (see 2. above).
You may say that there must be more than that, and there is; a lot more. However, those four basic steps are all that is required for a student to create an artwork. Witness what my Australian student John created after ten lessons. John was illiterate in Chinese when he started but has now built a list of characters that he can recognise. Watch this space: he will improve from here.