How the brush is held depends on which calligraphic genre you are practicing. For Japanese calligraphy, the brush is held in the right hand between the thumb and the index finger; very much like a Western pen. For Chinese calligraphy, the method of holding the brush is more special; the brush is held vertically straight gripped between the thumb and middle finger. The index finger lightly touches the upper part of the shaft of the brush (stabilizing it) whilst the ring and little fingers tuck under the bottom of the shaft. The palm is hollow and you should be able to hold an egg in there. This method, although difficult to hold correctly for the beginner, allows greater freedom of movement, control and execution of strokes.
A paperweight is placed at the top of all but the largest pages to prevent slipping; for smaller pieces the left hand is also placed at the bottom of the page for support.
In Japan, smaller pieces of Japanese calligraphy are traditionally written seated in the traditional Japanese way (seiza), on the knees with the buttocks resting on the heels. In modern times, however, practitioners frequently practice calligraphy seated on a chair at a table. Larger pieces may be written while standing; in this case the paper is usually placed directly on the floor, but some calligraphers use an easel.
A man practicing calligraphy in Beihai Park, Beijing
In China, there are many people who practice calligraphy in public places such as parks and sidewalks, using water as their ink and the ground as their paper. Very large brushes are required. Although such calligraphic works are temporary (as the water will eventually dry), they serve the dual purpose of both being an informal public display of one's work, and an opportunity to further practice one's calligraphy.
Calligraphy takes many years of dedicated practice. Correct stroke order, proper balance and rhythm of characters are an essential in calligraphy. Skilled handling of the brush produces a pleasing balance of characters on the paper, thick and thin lines, and heavy and light inking. A lot of times, a calligrapher will practice writing the Chinese character yong (meaning eternity) many, many times in order to perfect the eight basic essential strokes contained within the character. Those who can correctly write the yong character beautifully can potentially write all characters with beauty.
Basic calligraphy instruction is part of the regular school curriculum in both China and Japan. Students in both countries can attend schools designed to perfect the art and further the tradition of calligraphy in East Asia. There are fewer and fewer opportunities for individuals to attend such schools, given the economic situation.
The study of calligraphy as a means by which to read historical works has become more necessary, however and the Chinese government has recently begun programs to award special scholarships to those whose interest and ability are considered in this unique and often rigorous course of study.
The Arts :: Calligraphy
Artform | Styles | Tools | Study | Stroke Order | Noted Calligraphers