Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Calligraphy: Another of My New Obsessions

Over the last few weeks, I have doubled the number of hours that my Chinese teacher and I spend together. The laborious task of learning a language is still reserved to one hour lessons on Wednesday and Friday, but now, on Mondays, Shannon and I, together with Fan Xin--our lao shi, or teacher, take out our brushes and write for two hours. We don't use ink, but dip our fox hair in water and write on a special cloth from which our masterpieces mercifully evaporate quite quickly.

The traditional tools are shown below. Like everything else in China, you can purchase really cheap or really high end tools. Shannon has a nice set of mao bi, or calligraphy brushes. I have two brushes and a stone for the black ink, as well as a stamp and some red ink. The stamp is inscribed with my Chinese name in Traditional Chinese characters. We don't have a brush stand and I don't yet know what the spoon is for, but I do know that the black ink is made from ground stone.

Here are the basic strokes which are, coincidentally, all contained in this Chinese character meaning "eternity." The gou can be affixed to any of the longer strokes so that the character below does not have a shu and a gou, but rather a shugou.

Here is a picture of me hard at work. The inset shows a close-up of my attempt at writing my name, but there was too much water on the brush so that strokes appear bloated and puffy instead of elegant. That is a jar of honey by my left hand and the tea things that I mentioned in my last post.

On a related note, I have added the ability to write in Chinese characters on my Blackberry and I am very excited. (The nerds and Sinophiles among you will be interested to know that I can either use the pinyin or use the number keys (1-5) to enter strokes, like heng, and the Blackberry will offer a list of all the characters that have the same strokes in the same order.)

I am also learning to write using the nifty HSK preparation tool offered by nciku.com. HSK is short for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (汉语水平考试) and is the pre-eminent Chinese test for international learners, administered by the Confucius Institute and widely used by Chinese companies and universities to assess foreign candidates’ Chinese skills.