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Friday, March 24, 2006

How to Hold the Brush

How to Hold the Brush

To practice Chinese calligraphy, one must learn the proper way to hold the brush, which is related to body posture. The brush must be held properly and one must also learn how to use his or her wrists and elbows while writing.


 Body posture:


1) Posture depends on the size of the written characters and the writer's physical condition. Proper posture will affect the speed of one's progress and also his or her health. A contemporary calligrapher named Tang used the wrong posture, and although he became a calligrapher, he also became a hunchback; hence his name, Tang the Hunchback.



The correct posture for writing requires balanced shoulders and a straight back. The legs should be apart, with the feet evenly and firmly on the ground. The page is held down by the left hand as the brush is held in the right hand. The head is bent slightly forward, but not too low. The eyes should be fixed on the spot where one intends to write. The eyes and the tip of the writing brush should be 30 cm apart. The entire body should feel natural, and one should not pay too much attention to the posture or the body will become stiff or rigid. Correct posture simply prevents deformity and enables one to write properly. When writing characters larger than 10 cm, one should stand up. Use the appropriate posture depending on the situation.


 Finger method:


1) The important thing about holding the brush lies in the rational way of positioning the five fingers and the coordinated use of them. The functions of the five fingers are called ye, ya, gou, ge and di.


Ye (to press down the thumb): The thumb should press the brush on a slant from inside to outside.


Ya (how the index finger holds the brush handle): Move the finger slantwise and bend it slightly from the outside to the inside. The index finger and the thumb cooperate so that while one presses the other holds the brush handle.


Gou (hook; the way the middle finger hooks the outside of the brush): Move this finger forcefully from left to right to hook the brush. The middle finger must cooperate with the third finger to write the characters.


Ge (the way the third finger presses the brush): The third finger is placed on the inside of the brush handle pressing the handle from the inside to the outside. It cooperates with the middle finger so the two fingers exert an even and balanced force.


Di (work of the little finger): It is placed under the third finger to support it.


Points to remember while holding the brush are that the fingers must exert substantial force and the palm does no actual work. Calligrapher Xu Chengyi recommends the following:


The tiger's mouth is like a crescent moon.


The palm is shaped like hiding an egg.


If the five fingers cooperate with each other, the movement of the brush will be agile.


 Method of using the wrist:


Apart from the fingers, one must use the wrist and elbow to write Chinese characters. The wrist is crucial and must be used with agility. Use the wrist to manipulate the tip of the brush. The four positions of the wrist are to rest, cushion, lift and suspend.


Rest the wrist of the right hand on the table. This will enable one to use his or her fingers well. Employ this method when writing very small characters   As small as the head of a fly, the Chinese say.  


1) Cushion the wrist of the right hand with the left thumb or the left wrist, which will lift the right wrist. This method is very often used for writing ordinary, small characters.


2) Lift the right wrist from the table. Some people call this suspending the wrist, which is used to write medium-sized characters.


The last position is suspending both the wrist and the elbow, neither of which touches the table. This method is used to write big characters.


The four wrist positions are relative. If one intends to raise his or her calligraphy to the art level, he or she must practice the suspended-wrist position from the very beginning. Would-be calligraphers must not fear difficulty. He or she must acquire this basic skill.

Chinese calligraphy

callig1.gif (4240 bytes)
Chinese calligraphy (Brush calligraphy) is an art unique to Asian cultures. Shu (calligraphy), Hua (painting), Qin (a string musical instrument), and Qi (a strategic boardgame) are the four basic skills and disciplines of the Chinese literati.

Regarded as the most abstract and sublime form of art in Chinese culture, "Shu Fa" (calligraphy) is often thought to be most revealing of one's personality. During the imperial era, calligraphy was used as an important criterion for selection of executives to the Imperial court. Unlike other visual art techniques, all calligraphy strokes are permanent and incorrigible, demanding careful planning and confident execution. Such are the skills required for an administrator / executive. While one has to conform to the defined structure of words, the expression can be extremely creative. To exercise humanistic imagination and touch under the faceless laws and regulations is also a virtue well appreciated.

By controlling the concentration of ink, the thickness and adsorptivity of the paper, and the flexibility of the brush, the artist is free to produce an infinite variety of styles and forms. In contrast to western calligraphy, diffusing ink blots and dry brush strokes are viewed as a natural impromptu expression rather than a fault. While western calligraphy often pursue font-like uniformity, homogeneity of characters in one size is only a craft. To the artist, calligraphy is a mental exercise that coordinates the mind and the body to choose the best styling in expressing the content of the passage. It is a most relaxing yet highly disciplined exercise indeed for one's physical and spiritual well being. Historically, many calligraphy artists were well-known for their longevity.

Brush calligraphy is not only loved and practiced by Chinese. Koreans and Japanese equally adore calligraphy as an important treasure of their heritage. Many Japanese schools still have the tradition of having a student contest of writing big characters during beginning of a new school year. A biannual gathering commemorating the Lanting Xu by Wang Xi Zhi (The most famous Chinese calligrapher in Jin dynasty, ) is said to be held ceremonially in Japan. There is a national award of Wang Xi Zhi prize for the best calligraphy artist. Not too long ago, Korean government officials were required to excel in calligraphy. The office of Okinawa governor still displays a large screen of Chinese calligraphy as a dominating decor.

In the West, Picasso and Matisse are two artists who openly declared the influence by Chinese calligraphy on their works.
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