The Calligrapher's Life

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What about Chinese Calligraphy?

Chinese calligraphy certainly isn’t like the American and European handwriting I’ve come to respect over the decades. But, as an artist, I’m in awe of every stroke it takes to create Chinese characters.

Throughout the years, I’ve admired the dark, heavy strokes twisted and altered into intriguing designs on tattoos, tapestries, rubber stamps, paintings, and clothing without any notion what the characters meant.  Before my passion for calligraphic arts grew, I think I’ve been exposed to countless examples of Chinese calligraphy without realizing its form and beauty.

Now that’s it’s caught some serious attention from me-I wonder-am I ready for such a challenging art? Well, I guess anything’s possible.

Like American and European calligraphy, Chinese handwriting was originally designed to create uniformity across China for all personal and business communications.

In fact, Chinese calligraphy originated around the 2nd to 4th centuries and then it was memorialized in theoretical books to transfer the handwriting to later generations. Eventually, this writing gained popularity with additional countries across the Orient, such as Korea, Japan and Singapore, for art pieces and paintings, which developed a strong American appreciation over decades.

Within the past year, I’ve practiced calligraphy styles like italics, uncial, Copperplate, and Spencerian, but Chinese calligraphy piqued my interest over the summer. So, I checked into it and discovered some great ways to start. In my research, I found several video demos and online courses to aide in transferring my current calligraphy skill into practicing beautiful Chinese handwriting.

While checking for “how-to” videos, I stumbled across a couple of Chinese calligraphy video demonstrations and I watched in awe as the artists transformed each piece into a fabulous work of art, no matter what tool they were using. Immediately, I wondered how long it would take a novice (like me) to learn.

In one video, the artist used a simple brush on paper. In the second video, a calligrapher dipped a mop into a large bucket of ink drawing heavy dark strokes on a large piece of paper stretched across the floor.

Both Chinese artists created steady, yet focused strokes and lines while earning my full respect.

Shortly after the demonstrations, I was humbled. As much as I enjoy a good calligraphy challenge, I quickly changed my mind about practicing this fine art solo at this stage in my calligraphy skill. But, I do plan to give it a try in the future.

For now, I suggest seasoned calligraphers or extremely daring novices try their skill with this interesting art for a new project or challenge.

If you want to learn Chinese calligraphy, take full advantage of the resources on the web. To find out more visit this site for additional links to online courses.

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6 Simple Ways to Care for Your Calligraphy Nibs

I’m guilty. Yes, guilty of being a lazy artist and ruining more calligraphy nibs than I can count. At first, I gave myself the benefit of the doubt because of ignorance, but shortly after receiving advice on how to care for my calligraphy nibs, I no longer had an excuse.

Like anything I start, the nibs received special care with proper cleaning and storage. Then laziness set in. With every project, I began with good intentions to return to my desk to complete it, only to leave my nibs resting overnight with dried ink or paint.

After allowing a few nibs to dry this way, I discovered that my nibs were no longer the same and my lettering became inadequate with each stroke. That’s when I decided to change my naughty habits.

Several months of experience and a few pointers from my calligraphy classmates helped me save a few nibs. If you’d like to avoid replacing nibs on a regular basis, check out the advice below for ways to protect your calligraphy nibs with everyday household items.

Save your old toothbrushes. These are great tools for cleaning your nibs gently and getting in between the crevices.

Locate your baking soda. For a low cost, natural cleanser, mix about a teaspoon of baking soda and ½ teaspoon of distilled water to clean your nibs. If you have a small tube of toothpaste with baking soda and peroxide, it works well for cleaning the nibs without the hassle of mixing.

Rinse and dry your nibs completely. After each use, it’s imperative that you rinse your nibs with soft water or distilled water to protect them from drying mediums. To avoid rusting, dry the nibs well with a soft lint free cloth.

Store your nibs separately. Choose a plastic container for your nibs or make sure they have their own special slot to avoid contact with heavier tools and supplies in your art box.

Cover your nibs. If you’re working on a large job or project don’t hassle with removing the nib from the penholder every time. Just clean as usual and cover them with cut up drinking straws. Cut one drinking straw about an inch to an inch and half to cover the entire nib, which protects it from dust, bending from a fall, or contact with another item.

Use recommended paint and ink only. Check with your art store or calligraphy instructor if you plan to use a medium other than usual standard calligraphy ink, gouache or watercolors. Some inks or paints might be too harsh or heavy for your nibs and cause the medium to flow poorly.

Take good care of your nibs and they’ll take good care of you and your project. You’ll constantly create smooth letters without having to spend a fortune on replacing nibs unless you want to.

Paper Planning

Today, computers help limit the need for paper, so we avoid waste while cutting costs. It’s also the best solution for saving our environment, but I’m an avid paper lover and living life without it would be unfathomable. My fascination with paper started as a child because it delights the senses and offers tons of inspiration.  From decorative greeting cards to adorable stationery, the artist in me lights up with dozens of possibilities swirling in my head.

So, it’s not surprising I became fascinated with calligraphy. 

In the early practice phase, I grabbed inexpensive copy paper to test my new-found skills. What a disaster! Ink bled throughout the paper, and you couldn’t read any lettering. On top of that, the nib and runny ink easily ripped the paper with every stroke.  Of course, frustration set in and I almost thought my chances for creating beautiful lettering were over until I purchased calligraphy practice paper.

Calligraphy practice paper resembles a graph paper with slant lines and it’s sturdy enough to handle most inks while avoiding unnecessary bleeding and smearing. After purchasing the paper, I gained more confidence in my lettering skills and used it religiously. 

During my novice period, I had no clue why someone would choose one paper over another except for obvious color or texture differences. So, I continued to buy the “official” calligraphy practice paper until I discovered the best types of paper to use for my lettering projects. Oh, what a big difference it made! 

I’ve learned valuable information from classmates and instructors, which might have taken me months or years to learn on my own.

Calligraphy is no different from any art form that uses paper. Certain papers help enhance an artist’s work without ruining the paper or the overall piece. Depending on the project, artists generally work with a heavier standard bond paper (for practice) and they use stronger papers with weights up to 100 lb. or more for specialty pieces.

The stronger papers hold light grade inks much better than standard bond papers because they contain a greater pulp content, which makes them less susceptible to bleeding and smearing. If an artist must work with a lightweight paper, it’s better to use inks with heavy carbon content, such as Sumi ink. Acrylics and watercolors also hold well for standard bond papers.

Earlier this year, I discovered a fantastic method to save paper and time in the future. Before working with your favorite papers, turn them into reference pieces.

First, choose your entire medium, like watercolor, paint, inks and markers. Next, cut out a piece of paper large enough to include a description of each medium. For example, write out the name of each substance directly onto the paper. You’ll receive an instant example of how the paper responds to the marker, ink or paint. It might seem time-consuming at first, but you’ll reap the benefits when you’re ready to start your next calligraphic project.

 Have you ever endured problems using the wrong paper for your art project?

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