Session 2: Chinese Calligraphy for Beginners

Last week we took more time to settle in than anticipated so this week we will begin with a revision and expansion on the horizontal stroke before moving on.  The horizontal stroke does not exist in isolation except in the character ‘one’  (一 yi  )so we will explore its use in conjunction with other strokes.

Chinese Calligraphy is written with a brush, unlike English calligraphy, with a nib.  A calligraphy pen is held at a fixed angle and the Chinese brush is manipulated to various degrees by the movement of the wrist.  A student asked if the brush should be held  ‘straight’.  If by ‘straight’ one means ‘perpendicular’ to the paper, then the short answer is ‘no’, though it is held more vertically than you would hold a pencil.  There are Chinese scripts that benefit from holding the brush straight but we are studying the standard/regular script and for that, one must tilt the brush at various angles at times. We will explore that in Session 2.

Sometimes students bring homework for critique, brave souls.  I was staggered by the improvements one of the students made over the holidays.  It was humbling to see that she was able to progress so well without me :)  Ann insisted that my tuition helped; what a clever and polite student.  Unfortunately we ran out of time so we didn’t hang her work on the board; I hope she bring it tomorrow so that I can photograph it for the blog and for others to appreciate it.  We will resume our practice of self critique.

Hopefully the beginners had some fun at home over the week and are ready for more.  It will be interesting to see if last week scared them off.  It happens.  That first lesson presents a lot of information to absorb and if absorbed, it is the only lesson that one may require to lay a solid path to travel on.

We will move on to other strokes but fundamentally, the approach to each stroke is the same.  What to watch: where to start, where to press the brush to thicken a stroke and when to lift it to narrow the stroke, in what direction are we travelling, where to end and how to finish.  It’s all done with the eyes.  Recognising the spacing and relationship between strokes, then between words/characters, is also crucial.

Students who are literate in Chinese have a distinct advantage, of course.  They are familiar with stroke sequences and the overall shape of each character.  However, at times this could prove a hindrance if they cannot accept that calligraphy is different to writing, particularly as we are studying a Tang Dynasty script.  Many characters are different to the standard script of today.

It is important to study one script at a time because every script has its distinctive characteristics and mixing them would be like using different fonts to spell a word.  In fact beginners should practice only one style of each script, as there are hundreds, if not thousands.  Below are samples of Chinese using my MacBook Air fonts.  Even computer prints can vary so much.


Below are examples of the character 空 in various Chinese calligraphy scripts; mixing them is inadvisable, unless you aim to be perverse in the name of creativity:







About Mary Tang

An urban orchardist everyday, a volunteer regularly, a poet sometimes and a blogger since March 2015. I travel when I can. Food is a constant.
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5 Responses to Session 2: Chinese Calligraphy for Beginners

  1. Dalo 2013 says:

    The depth and mystery of Chinese calligraphy in immense, I love how it truly is an artform. If you have a passion for it, it will come eventually ~ and you will fall for the Chinese culture as well :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. taphian says:

    wonderful work, Mary

    Liked by 1 person

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