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How to sign this coming year in artworks

Each year has a unique name in the lunar calendar, and in our previous posts you may have also found out the logic in the naming of the years, which respects a 60-year cycle. In this post let us talk about the name, and especially how to write in Chinese calligraphy the coming year of rabbit!

Happy year of rabbit!

A little revision: how do we get the 60 year cycle? We use a system called the Stem-Branches or Ganzhi, also known as the sexagenary cycle. This is an ancient and long-surviving recording system that was common in the Eastern Asia, but its application can barely be seen other than in artworks anymore. As stated in the name of this system, it repeats every 60 years, and that means the same name of the year comes back once every 60 years.

We have 10 stems and 12 branches, and we match them according to certain orders. These heavenly stems, written as 甲乙丙丁戊己庚辛壬癸, their functions are just like numbers 1-10, indicating an order; the earthly branches are animals, the same animals for the zodiacs, and they are 子丑寅卯辰巳午未申酉戌亥, each referring to an animal. It is worth noting that these character cannot be used to refer to the animal directly, they are associated with the animals only. Every other character from the top line matches with every other character from the second line, and this way we have the complete chart of exactly 60 matchings:

甲子乙丑丙寅丁卯戊辰己巳庚午辛未壬申癸酉
甲戌乙亥丙子丁丑戊寅己卯庚辰辛巳壬午癸未
甲申乙酉丙戌丁亥戊子己丑庚寅辛卯壬辰癸巳
甲午乙未丙申丁酉戊戌己亥庚子辛丑壬寅癸卯
甲辰乙巳丙午丁未戊申己酉庚戌辛亥壬子癸丑
甲寅乙卯丙辰丁巳戊午己未庚申辛酉壬戌癸亥

This coming year will be the year named “癸卯”, located in the very last column. The first character “癸”, sounds like “gui”, indicates the order, and the second character “卯”, sound “mao”, means the year of rabbit. All the new paintings created starting from around this time of year could be signed with this name.

It also happens that some people sign their artworks with characters that directly refer to the year 2023. This is really rare but exists. In this case, it will be the Chinese characters that represent these individual numbers that come in use: 二零二三, or 二0二三. My advise is for you to spend a little time and learn to sign the accurate way, which can be used for an entire year anyway, so the effort is worthwhile!

In this following video let me show you how to write each character:


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    Silk in the oriental art

    Other than paper, there are a few textile fabrics that are rather essential in the oriental art world. Do you know of them? Today let us take a look at a few of the most interesting and important ones!

    Example of ancient clothes

    When thinking about the oriental world, one of the symbols that pops into everybody’s head is silk. Silk as an important item for trade, and has played a key role in the overall prosperity of the eastern world. Since the Neolithic period the silk worm raising and textile manufacturing has already taken shape in the east, where numerous archeological discoveries provide solid proof. We can say with some certainty that the very first silk textiles most likely were produced for rituals, where people may have injected great hope in this fabric that is lighter than air to bring them longevity and then help them be delivered to the great ever after.

    During the Spring and Autumn and the Warring State periods the silk fabrics became a norm in regular clothing, well, clothing of the powerful – for a long time the wealthy merchants could not wear silk clothing due to their low social status. We have many names referring to the textile fabricated from silk, Ling, Luo, Chou, Duan, each has its unique weaving style, and each more fabulous than the next. Silk became a currency to a large extent over the course of history, and a trading path was even named after it, the Silk Road, which empowered countless nations along its way.

    Silk in record was also used in artworks much earlier than paper. The painting below is potentially the earliest painting created on silk that still exists today. Raw silk can be made into Bo or Juan, types of fabrics often used in the painting practice. Juan is the more popular and better developed style for art creation.

    Earliest Juan painting (partial), 女史箴图, Gu Kai Zhi, Jin Dynasty (5th-8th Century)
    Bo Painting, War State

    When we talk about the silk painting, Juan is the type of silk fabric that we refer to. Juan is a plainly woven silk fabric, and the raw silk acts similarly to the raw rice papers, whereas the ripe silk is also available for the more meticulous Gongbi painting style, just as the rice papers. In order to make the silk ripe, a series of complicated procedures are required, captured in the Tang Dynasty painting below. We can almost be certain that up until early Tang Dynasty all ancient paintings were made on Juan instead of paper. However, the texture of Juan may vary depending on the preference of the artists, so some artworks may appear to be painted on rougher surfaces than others.

    Court ladies preparing newly woven silk, Zhang Xuan, Tang Dynasty
    Example of Juan

    Another silk fabric commonly used in the oriental art is called Ling, which is often used for the mounting of artworks. We said that Juan was made to reflect the most plain woven fabric style, but it is not the case of Ling. Ling is filled with gorgeous patterns, including clouds, flowers, birds, etc. As the techniques progressed, more and more patterns appeared. These silk materials would be the kind that you most likely have seen as the borders of mounted artworks.

    Example of Ling
    Example of Ling mounted paper

      Nowadays however, Ling has experienced some change, where many types are produced with a layer of glue that reacts with heat. So the delicate mounting process became a ironing practice. I do enjoy the time saved, but I always felt that there is something missing about the rich mounting culture. So in the coming months I will try and make a video to show you how to further mount your artworks with a layer of the gorgeous silk around it the traditional and homemade way. So stay tuned!


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      How to make Xuan Rice Paper ripe

      In the oriental art world we use the Xuan rice paper, and in the previous post we discussed how to size them in order to use them most efficiently. Today let us discuss another aspect of it, how to make rice paper ripe. Now we all know that there are raw, ripe and half ripe rice papers, why do we need to make the paper ripe anyway?

      Example of Rice Paper

      The reasons are multifold.

      The most important reason would be to “fix” the defects of already ripe papers or silk. During the Gongbi painting practice, there are often times (it happened more when I was young) that the ripe rice paper or ripe silk contains spots that are actually raw or not ripe enough. In this case when we paint over such spots it becomes obvious that the color within such spots are darker, and that the color sinks through to the back of the paper. If you have seen many Gongbi paintings made several decades ago, it is very common to find such spots in the shape of finger prints that appear more often at the edges of the papers, and sometimes they would even be right in the middle of a person’s face that you consider key to the image, destroying the ambience of the painting immediately. Therefore it becomes crucial to fix the papers that we use. Ripe papers nowadays rarely have such issues anyway, but if you have not kept the papers correctly, overtime the papers may still exhibit such issues.

      Zhang Guo Lao - Gongbi Style
      Example of Gongbi Painting

      Other times the artists may want to create their own ripe papers or silk after first making use of the qualities of raw papers or silk. Such creations normally would involve an elaborate background. The artists would then make the paper or silk ripe to continue with his or her creations in the realm of the meticulous Gongbi style.

      It also happens that during the Gongbi art creation, certain colors require to be secured on the papers, so that during the mounting process such colors would remain intact. These colors usually involve the “rock-based” kinds, which depending on the painting style, may need to be accumulated on the surface of the paper or silk. In this case we also need to engage the same method as in making the paper ripe.

      So how to make the paper or silk ripe?

      Example of rocks from which the oriental painting colors are made

      We need a solution made from gelatin and potassium alum. The solution created are used for all the above stated issues, as well as in fixing the ancient paintings. However, the preparation of such procedure can be rather confusing, and perhaps I will be able to shoot a video about this in the future, but right now let me share the information with you in word.

      Example of Gelatin and Alum

      When preparing the gelatin, one can first soak it in cold water to remove the dust, if any, and then soak in warm (up to 80 °C) but not boiling water to fully dissolve it. The alum requires cold water to soak, and make sure to soak and dissolve it a day in advance. Boiling water may interfere with the properties of them, and is advised against.

      Depending on the season and personal preferences, the proportion between the gelatin (G) and the alum (A) changes:

      • Summer: G:A=6:4
      • Winter: G:A=8:2
      • Other: G:A=7:3

      According to the most popular practice, use the same amount of water to dissolve each of the ingredient before combining them. The final water amount should be about 15 times the weight of gelain and alum combined, in our case, if you use G=7g, A=3g, then the water should be 150g. It is better to use more water to make more diluted solution, and if necessary, apply it a few times. The more concentrated solution would damage the properties of the paper.

      If your solution contains too much gelatin, then when painting over it you will find the brush strokes too smooth and that the colors would no longer stay; The opposite case indicates a paper surface that resists the brush strokes too much, and the papers would also become very vulnerable, crispy to be exact. Sometimes this solution also gives the surface a yellow tint, which could cover the bright colors below. So my advise is to use this solution only when necessary!


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      How to size Xuan Rice Paper

      In the oriental art world the most popular canvas would be xuan rice paper. When you purchase the most regular Xuan rice papers you will find them rather large – most commonly 3 feet, 4 feet or 6 feet! They would also come in a pack of 100 sheets, which is called a “knife”. If you have have had trouble or wondered about how to size these papers, this post will provide you with some guidance.

      A “knife” of Rice Paper

      The 3 feet paper size is 50cm x 100cm; the 4 feet rice paper is 69cm x 138cm; the 6 feet is 97cm x 180cm. The most commonly used is the 4 feet, but for some very large productions the 6 feet can also be very useful. The oriental paintings are generally much larger in scale than the western ones, because we need lots of blank spaces in the painting besides the images that we actually paint. The same scale and paper sizes apply equally to calligraphy – according to the number of characters we can easily manage the character size on a standard paper. So when faced with a large sheet of paper that is 69cm x 138cm, is there a good way to cut them so that there is minimum waste? The answer is yes. Let us take the 4 feet paper to explain.

      A Pang Palace, Qing Dynasty (12-screen painting)

      A very common way of sizing the paper is to split the 4 feet into 2. This creates about 34cm x 138cm long sheets, which is very often seen in art creations, and if you have wondered about why there are so many artworks in this dimension, the answer is that this is one of the mot efficient ways of using the rice paper. The image above shows 12 paintings of this scale that forms a complete artwork.

      If the paper is split into three from the long side, we will have 46cm x 69cm sizes, another useful size. This size involves a rather comfortable width-length ratio, and is used often by authorities when hosting art competitions. With this paper size, both horizontal and vertical styles work nicely. For even smaller sizes, another cut can be made to form the 46cm x 34cm style.

      Painting by Qi Bai Shi

      When resizing from the 34cm x 138cm papers, we can get 34cm x 69cm and 34cm x 34cm styles. They serve the smaller long and thin style or square style very well, giving us more options to work with.

      These paper sizing styles are also the reason why many smaller sized papers are sold the way they are, and often also by 100 sheets. Below is a nice chart for you which can provide you with direct visual guide in paper sizing. Hope this post will help you figure out a nicer way in using rice paper!

      Rice Paper Sizes

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      Art mounting

      Mounting is in itself an art that has lasted for over 1000 years. We have discussed this topic briefly in the past, but in this post let us dive deeper into the complex yet fascinating world of art mounting. There is an old saying which refers to the significance of mounting: a painting weighs 30% of the value, while mounting counts 70%. Even though exaggerated a bit, the message is clear – a good piece of art cannot live without matching mounting. The relationship between the art content and the mounting is more than people and clothes, it is more similar to people and their skin. This mounting skin layer serves to protect the artwork, either by wrapping it closely or enhancing its strength. Thanks to appropriate mounting, many ancient paintings lived to see us today, and it is commonly said that the longevity paper (xuan paper) can survive 1000 years, while silk can live over 800 years. The fact is, with this protective skin, the artworks can go through some restoration and live double triple their lifespan or longer!

      Flower-Bird painting by Song Hui Zong (Song Dynasty) with Qing Dynasty Mounting

      In history many styles of mounting arose, which matured around Tang and Song Dynasties. There are the common scrolls, either horizontal or vertical that can hang on the wall; There are handscrolls that are convenient to transport – it has been said that the famous Song Hui Zong prefers the handscroll to any other means of art mounting styles, simply because he loved taking artworks around. Mounting can also result in book binding, and many ancient beautiful hardcovers provide the best examples of these. Several vertical scrolls could form an ensemble, where either the content is connected or divided from the same piece of artwork. This was a famous style in the Qing Dynasty. A simple way to tell between regular scrolls and these panels would be at the bottom where the regular scrolls have a round piece of wood coming out from each side, but the panels usually do not, this way they could be hung closer to each other. Another common style of mounting is a flat sheet, where the artwork is safely surrounded by layers of silk from all sides. These are the best styles to keep in frames. I personally prefer the frame styles of art display, simply because they are simple and they save our wall space.

      An example of ancient binding

      Within each of the styles mentioned above the details have changed over time and geographic location. The color choices of the decorative silk and the patterns formed by these layers can easily tell us their distinctive styles. So this layer of skin alone tell beautiful stories!

      Nowadays most mounting ateliers could use machines to mount. Therefore a mounting process that requires 20-30 processes and several weeks to a few months could be completed within an hour. The machines use decorative silk and papers that come with a layer of glue. High temperature from the machines could immediately flatten the artworks and apply this layer, and from the outside is looks just as pleasing as the traditional ways.

      My sentiments toward the machine mounting is contradictory however, on the one hand this method saves us so much time, but on the other hand I know there are real differences in the final product and the glue is definitely not environmental friendly. The main difference lies in the fact that hand-mounted painting could be restored (we could re-mount when needed), but machine ones could never. Also, the machine mounted pieces are much thinner and much lighter due to the reduced layers of materials.

      Examples of Handscolls

      I guess I consider the mounting to be one of the traditional arts from the East, and just like too many other things, machines ruined the purity of this land. I have seen some videos of people preparing for the machine mounting, where irons are employed and run over the sides of the paintings… to me this image feels a little like a violation and destruction of something really pure and beautiful.

      But the good news is, I have decided to import some more mounting supplies and add some silk layers to decorate my paintings. I will share my experiences with you in due time, so stay tuned! For now, you can learn to mount the first layer already at home, check out the video below!


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      A glory known as the Song Dynasty art

      I talk about the Song Dynasty (960-1279) all the time – I even said that if one day time travel becomes a reality, the period I would like to visit would be Song (if I can still come back that is). The Song Dynasty produced a huge supply of excellent artists who pushed the oriental aesthetics to a peak so high that no other periods could reach.

      Flower-Bird painting by Song Hui Zong

      This period of time follows the great Tang Dynasty, though militarily weaker, the people in charge were rather into art, which lead the entire country into such an artistic pursuit. Civilians were known to be able to rent art supplies and they would purchase or make artistic decorations for the holidays. The palace too took art very seriously, and it was during this time that the training and patronage of outstanding artists became official: the Imperial Painting Academy was built. This academy has Song Hui Zong to thank in fact, who not only was an Emperor but also an excellent artist and art collector.

      During this period the study of painting was further categorized into numerous detailed branches; it was also in this period where the landscape painting finally eclipsed figure painting. The presentation of an artwork bloomed into so many brilliant styles too, there were handscrolls, hanging scrolls, album leaves, and many more.

      A study of Song painting

      The Song Dynasty could be similar to the Renaissance in that humanity started to wake up, where artists started to explore beyond the shape of an object but to inject their emotions into the outside natural world. The focus of this period of time is nature: a flower, a bird, a river… all these images tell us how much the artists love life, and how loaded these simple images are with emotions: we could read the desire for freedom, security and tranquility from each of the artworks.

      “The representation of nature not merely as pretty scenery but with a moral message of self-cultivation has continued to inspire Chinese artists down to the present day.”

      – The Chinese Art Book
      Song Dynasty Collection of Classic Paintings

      We will talk about some key Song Dynasty painters in the coming posts, but today I would like to introduce you to a new set of books that has just arrived in our shop (see image above). This set of books contains over 400 classic paintings from the Song Dynasty of 3 categories: flower-bird, landscape, and figure painting. I like these books also because the paintings are close to their real sizes, making the books collectable as well as a wonderful manual to study from.

      So if you desire to learn the oriental painting, do not miss out on these artworks of the Song Dynasty! Set the right path and you can achieve great height!

      Song Dynasty Paintings

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      Plum Blossoms

      In our discussion of the Four Gentleman Plants, one remains – plum blossoms. They are elected leader of the top 10 flowers in China, and they are appreciated for their fragrance and elegance, not to mention their unyielding personality – they bloom most beautifully in the harsh winters. To trace its history, the plum blossoms have been planted in China for over 3000 years, loved for both the flowers and the fruits. The plums were in fact one of the most essential ingredients in cooking, because during that period to spice food properly using the right available tastes were extremely difficult.

      Plum Blossoms by Qi Bai Shi, collected in the Four Gentleman Painting Manual (see shop)

      The appreciation of the plum blossoms could be traced as far as early Han Dynasty (202BC-220). The urban planning involved plum trees to decorate the cities, where the white wild ones and the pink ones were especially popular.

      During the Sui, Tang and Five Dynasties (518-963), over the span of half a century the plum blossoms evolved into an artistic treat. They were planted to be appreciated, and the name “艺梅” (artistic plum blossom) came into being. From then on we also started to associate these flowers with temples, because in the yards of temples such artistic plum trees were best kept – some even survived until today! The Tang Dynasty was particularly recognized for breeding the red plum blossoms that we all love so much.

      close up photo of plum blossoms
      Plum blossom

      In the very artistic Song Dynasty (960-1279) the breeding techniques of the artistic plum trees improved drastically. There were even dedicated books that discussed the plum species and the techniques in planting. Besides the gardening need, the artistic people would never let such beauty go without being recorded in thousands of paintings! Books about plum blossom painting were written and the rules and techniques still influence us deeply today.

      Plum painting manual, Liu Xue Hu

      The Yuan Dynasty and the following Ming and Qing Dynasties continued in their love of plum blossoms, and more and more painting manuals, gardening manuals were written, the improved technologies in painting as well as in gardening facilitated such publication. Among the numerous artists, Wang Mian from the Yuan Dynasty in particular was historically known for his passion toward plum blossoms. He not only painted these flowers, but also wrote many poems to praise them. His most famous poetry would be “Ink Plum Blossoms”, and let us attempt to translate it.

      Ink Plum Blossoms, Wang Mian

      In the pond where I wash my brush and ink-stone and look up,

      the plum blossoms above appears to bear pale-ink marks.

      People praised how delicate these beauties are,

      but the blossoms only cared to leave in the world their fragrance all about.


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      Legends of the Mustered Seed Garden

      In our collection of painting manuals you will easily find three volumes of a painting book, named Jie Zi Yuan, the mustered seed garden. These books are listed as a must learn manual because since publishing it has influenced the mass public for generations. Over the 300 years of its existence, all the legendary painters have studied it and subsequently recommended it. We know that this set of books was meant as a self-learning painting guide, with a great number of examples. But this book eventually became the ultimate guide for self-taught students of many trades: sculpture, ceramics, dye, textile, gardening, etc. The original copy was colored, and volumes include landscape, flower-bird and four gentlemen. There are quite a few later reprints, but the quality deteriorated slowly, and there are others who added figure painting volume to this set, in order to complete its coverage.

      Furthermore, this legendary set of book is significant in the wide oriental painting world – its impact reached far beyond the borders of China – Korea and Japan are both deeply influenced by it. Japan has already imported it by 1712, and from the famous Ukiyo-e we can still perceive of the long-lasting charms from these books.

      Li Yu, the composer of the book, named it after his garden, Jie Zi Yuan. The legends of these painting manuals barely count as the tip of the iceberg of the legends of this man.

      The restored Jie Zi Yuan

      Li was born in the late Ming Dynasty, but before he could enter the society the country disappeared, the Qing Dynasty came into being, and for a Ming social elite this meant the end. Most educated people in his situation would choose to retreat to the countryside and lead a hermit life away from the crowd – not Li. He moved to one of the biggest cities where he became a playwright, correction, a famous playwright with a great number of fans.

      Statue of Li Yu

      The stories that Li created were fascinating and addictive, they were legendary. Most of his stories involved love plots, which is still one of the best selling categories today! His stories were rather ahead of its time, the many twists and unbelievable reveals deeply engaged the mass public – a much bigger cohort than the social elites who read serious articles. Take an example of his stories, in one of them he told of two sister-like best friends who lived together, wore the same outfits and eventually married the same man – his imaginations are rather bold in fact, even by today’s standard.

      Soon however, he started to notice a huge problem of piracy, illegal copies appeared faster than bamboo shoots. His solution was rather comic in the end, after trying many methods to protect his own rights, he started reporting piracy to the authorities before the new book released onto the market. Apparently with the authorities already looking for the copycats, his new books were finally protected.

      Plays at the new Jie Zi Yuan

      His legacies on the book reviews affect our modern lives – Journey to the West, Three Kingdoms, The Dreams of the Red Chambers and All Men Are Brothers (some translated into Heroes of the Marsh), the four classics were appointed by him. With his success in literature, he decided to purchase a garden and make a collection of painting books, the famous Jie Zi Yuan painting books were born. In this garden he also directed and hosted many theater plays, and the glory of Jie Zi Yuan lived until the end of his life. Perhaps his own life story could make a great legendary novel after all!


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      Development of brush holding technique

      Holding a brush is almost the very first thing to learn in an Oriental brush art class. You may have spend time learning about the correct way to use a brush, just like in the video below, most of the texts will also tell you that all five fingers are required in holding a brush, where three of them are the main ones doing the work. The brush stem should be held rather vertically from the surface of the desk, and the palm should remain rather hollow, as if an egg could fit in. However, the long version of the story is quite different!

      In the periods between Qing Dynasty and Tang Dynasty, the way to hold a brush is the “bad” way of modern days: only the index finger, the middle finger, and the thumb are touching the brush, just like the way we use a pencil, with the brush stem leaning again the hand. This way of brush holding is called the “single hook”. The image below came from a Japanese monk who came to China in the 9th Century and made recordings of brush holding techniques.

      Single hook style of brush holding

      The image below partially shows a man holding a brush in the “single hook” way, painted by a famous Tang Dynasty painter, Yan Li Ben, who provided rather convincing evidence that in the past they held brushes the same way we hold a pencil today. But towards the middle and late Tang Dynasty, the brush holding evolved: great calligraphers started to hold the brush stems up straight, and the ring finger joined in to hold up the brush from behind, the “double hook” as we know today came to life.

      Example of “single hook” from Tang painting, Yan Li Ben
      So why the change?

      Some argue that the change of seating position initiated the change of brush holding methods. But either seated as we do today or knelt as in the past, the distance between our eyes and the surface that we write on has not changed. So I doubt the legitimacy of this argument.

      Others suggested that the writing scripts influenced the brush holding styles, saying the newer scripts fit better with the newly developed “double hook”. I am not convinced by this, because taking the ancient small seal script for example, to keep the brush tip in the middle of each brush stroke is impossible when one holds the brush with an angle.

      Qing Dynasty painting (partial), “double hook” brush holding

      Let us consider a fact: in the far beginning people even grabbed the brush with the entire fist, because all they needed to do was to secure this tool to record a message. So I speculate when writing became more and more like an art form, the way of holding a brush had to evolve to adapt to this fancy identity. Just like fashion trends, when some celebrity starts holding the brush in one way, perhaps the other started to follow suit.

      However, with all the above said, I must say that whichever way one prefers to hold a brush, the final result has to be that the hand is enabled to create desirable lines using brushes. Also for a beginner, the “double hook” can keep the brush rather stable with a rather classy posture, and in addition, one is immediately brought into the atmosphere of calligraphy holding a brush this way. Where the mind is can be quite important in the creation of such arts, so why not using the “double hook”?

      But eventually, all the tactics and strategies will disappear, only the true art form will remain, and when we reach that stage, how the brush is held is no longer important.


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      Oriental art, where to start?

      Lately there have been some questions regarding the learning of the oriental arts, especially for beginners, where is a good starting point? I would like to share some thoughts regarding this topic, as it is a rather key question, which can affect the results of learning.

      The simple answer to this question is, if you have the time, start with the Chinese calligraphy. From here on, calligraphy or painting will become exceedingly easy. The calligraphy and painting share the same origins, they also share the tools and method of creation, so it is easier to start with the simpler of the two, calligraphy.

      Calligraphy manual

      I call calligraphy simpler, it is because this form of art does not require colors in comparison with painting. But in fact to write calligraphy well, one needs to take no less practice than painting. However, calligraphy can also be seen as an ultimate form of painting, where the planes have been reduced to lines and dots, but the dimensions are still there.

      It is totally fine to start with painting too, however the start will take longer than people who are already familiar with using a brush and ink to create lines. A downside of only knowing painting, is that a complete piece of oriental art is composed of calligraphy, painting, and seals (we are not required to make the seals ourselves), so not being able to write nice characters (often poems and names) is an existing problem among modern artists.

      Which script to start?

      Among the 5 major scripts, the most classic starting point would be seal script 隶书, however the most useful and popular choice is the regular script 楷书. The seal script was an ancient form of writing, and most people nowadays do not even recognize the characters written in this script anymore. The best place to see these characters being used would be at the Terra Cotta Warrior site, where naturally everything was made to look original, and it was seal script that was used then.

      The regular script being the popular choice is because of its wide applications. On the newspapers, TV show subtitles, most business signs, everywhere we see would be a font that came from this script. This script is the clearest to read, and is the most recognizable one. All the children in school are required to learn this script. So even though this script was developed later, and it is not the most expressive one, it is still the most popular one.

      Me teaching a regular script class

      So between the seal script and the regular script, either style could be a nice starting point of brush art training. As a child, I started with the regular script practice, which gave me very solid knowledge of character structures and balance. Although I can imagine writing seal script as a start, the brush stroke requirements in the seal scripts are more fundamental, which has a wider application in paintings. There are two basic ways of writing brush strokes, but only one of them displays true strength and this is the one used almost exclusively in seal script. The weakness of seal script is also rather apparent, apart from fewer application (outside of art creation), the character structures are rather different from modern writing.

      Brush Strokes
      What if I want to only learn painting?
      A part of the plum blossom & fox painting with signature, Fiona Sheng

      It is of course normal to only want to learn painting, but the advice is, some knowledge of calligraphy is necessary, so that you are not limited by the awkward signatures. Learn to sign the year, your name and perhaps the season, at least your paintings will be authentic. It will also be great to know a few useful and common phrases or better yet, idioms and sentences from poems, so that your paintings can also have an elegant title. These do not have to be long, but 1-4 characters can suffice! In this case, the best styles to learn would be the “more decorative” types, that include seal script and (semi) cursive script. The regular script will be too rigid as a title.

      Considering all the above, perhaps you can have a good idea of what suits you in the oriental art pursuit! I am almost certain however, that whichever starting point you take will lead you further and further on this artistic quest, and you will want to learn more and more. Your mind will clear, your body will relax, and you will fall madly in love with simple lines of ink – can you believe that?


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