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Introduction to Chinese Calligraphy

Calligraphy is a type of visual art, often called the art of writing. It has been an art-form in China for thousands of years.

In ancient China characters have been found carved on ox scapula and tortoise plastrons. By 220 BC several reforms had been introduced by the emperor Qin Shi Huang, creating a set of 330 standardized characters called Xiaozhuan, which were later followed by the Lishu (clerical script ) and Kaishu (traditional regular script) styles. China's early development of printing technology allowed for stabilization of calligraphic characters relatively soon into their development.

There are five major styles of Chinese script, and in chronological order of development they are: seal script, clerical script, cursive script, semi-cursive script, and regular script.

Calligraphy is practised with an ink brush, ink, paper and inkstone, which are known as the Four Treasures of Study. The brush is the traditional East Asian writing implement. The body can be made from either bamboo or rarer material such as red sandalwood, glass, silver or gold, while the head can be made from the hair (or feather) of a variety of animals including the weasel, rabbit, chicken, goat, pig etc. There is a Chinese tradition of making a brush using the hair of a newborn baby as a souvenir for the child, which is associated with the legend of an ancient Chinese scholar who scored first in the Imperial examinations by using such a brush. Today calligraphy may be done with a pen, but it does not enjoy the same prestige as traditional brush calligraphy.

In China the preferred type of paper is Xuanzhi, from Anhui province. It is made from the Tartar wingceltis insect as well as other materials including rice.

Calligraphic ink is made from lampblack (soot) and binders, and comes in inksticks which must be rubbed with water on an inkstone until the right consistency is achieved. Cheaper, pre-mixed bottles of ink are now available, but these are primarily used for practice. Learning to rub the ink is an essential part of calligraphic study. Traditionally, Chinese calligraphy is written only in black ink, but modern calligraphers sometimes use other colours.

A stone or ceramic inkstone is used to rub the solid inkstick into liquid ink and to contain the ink once it is liquid. Chinese inkstones are highly prized as art objects and an extensive bibliography is dedicated to their history and appreciation.

Studying calligraphy requires copying exemplary works of reputed calligraphers. Being competent in a particular style often requires many years of practice, and correct strokes, stroke order, character structure, balance and rhythm are essential attributes to develop.

Notable calligraphic practitioners throughout history include Wei Shuo (272 - 349), Emperor Taizong of Tang (599 -649), Zheng Xie (1693-1765) and Qigong (1912 - 2005).


Chinese Brush-Painting Introduction

Chinese brush-painting is one of the oldest artistic traditions in the world. Painting in the tradition style is known today as 'national' or 'native painting', and is done in the same manner as calligraphy, using a brush dipped in black or coloured ink. The most popular materials for painting on are paper and silk. The finished work is then mounted on scrolls which are rolled or hung up. Traditional painting is also done in albums, walls and lacquerwork.

The earliest paintings were representational rather than ornamental, consisting of patterns or designs. During the Warring States Period (403-221 BC) artists began to represent the world around them. In the Han (202 BC) and Tang (618-906) dynasties artists mainly painted the human figure, and many paintings have been found in burial sites, preserved on silk banners, lacquered objects, and tomb walls. The time from the Five Dynasties period to the Northern Song period (907-1127) is known as the 'great age of Chinese landscape', and this form of painting is considered by many critics to be the highest form of Chinese painting. In the north artists such as Jing Hao, Fan Kuan, and Guo Xi painted pictures of towering mountains, using strong black lines, ink wash, and sharp, dotted brushstrokes to suggest rough stone. In the south, Dong Yuan, Juran, and other artists painted the rolling hills and rivers of their countryside with softer, rubbed brushwork. These two kinds of scenes and techniques became the classical styles of Chinese landscape painting. Brush-painting in China has passed through many periods and adopted many influences, yet depicting the land around them still remains the highest ideal for many Chinese artists.

There are two main techniques in Chinese painting, which are: meticulous (known as 'court-style' painting), and freehand (loosely termed watercolour or brush painting). There are 'six principles' which were established by Xie Han, a writer , art historian and critic in the 5th century. They are 'spirit resonance' or vitality, the energy that an artist transmits into the work; 'bone method' or way of using the brush, which refers not only to texture and brush stroke but the link between handwriting and personality; 'correspondence to object' or the depiction of form; 'suitability to type' or the application of colour; 'division and planning' or placing and arrangement; and 'transmission by coping', or the copying of models not only from life but the works of antiquity.

Notable painters throughout history include Zhao Ji (1082-1135), Huizhong Emperor during the Song Dynasty; Pu Xinyu (1986 - 1963), Manchurian royalty; and Kun Can, a Buddhist monk during the Qing Dynasty.

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