Thursday, August 27, 2009

Writing Techniques 运笔法

There are three basic elements of brush techniques: brush holding technique, writing postures and writing techniques. The beginner will not be able to master all the techniques in a short time, but they must pay due attention to the principles of applying these techniques. It will be a shame for someone who has practised Chinese calligraphy for some time without knowing brush techniques.
We have discussed about the brush holding techniques and writing postures. We shall now look at the writing techniques.
In writing Chinese calligraphy, each stroke involves three phases of executing the brush: To begin the stroke (qibi), to move the brush (xingbi) and to end the stroke (shoubi). If strokes of a Chinese character are regarded as the basis of word construction, then qibi, xingbi and shoubi are essential techniques that determine the form of each of them.
Writing techniques are the most difficult part of brush techniques and beginners tend to neglect them. Therefore it is necessary to always remind yourself to pay special attention on this as you begin to write characters so as to cultivate good habits in writing strokes as you go along.
The basic approach to qibi is: You start with moving the brush to the opposite of the intended direction of writing the stroke for a short distance and then turn the brush-tip towards to the intended direction and proceed to the second phase of moving the brush. For example, when writing a horizontal stroke, which must be written from left to right, you have to move the brush to the left shortly and then turn the brush-tip back and move rightward. Similar steps should also be applied to start writing a perpendicular stroke. The Chinese saying is that move the brush leftward first if you intend to move it horizontally rightward, and move upward first if you intend to write vertically downward. The process is repeated each time you start writing a stroke.
The basic approach to shoubi is: Before ending a stroke, turn the brush-tip to the opposite direction and move shortly to complete writing the stroke. This process is repeated each time you end a stroke. However, there are cases where there is no need to execute shoubi and you need to find out and memorise these exceptions.
In writing a calligraphy stroke, one actually needs mainly to remember to apply the following three major principles of ‘centered tip’ (Zhong Feng):
1. Always hold the brush in an upright position, that is, it must be perpendicular to the writing surface.
2. Always keep the tip of the brush in the middle of the stroke.
3. Always ensure that the brush tip points at the opposite direction of the brush’s movement.
3. 要令笔锋指向行笔相反的方向。

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Letter of Loss and Confusion 王羲之《丧乱帖》

Lanting Xu, the famous work by Wang Xizhi (303-361), is reputed to be the best Xingshu (walking script) in the Chinese calligraphy history. As a whole, the brushwork of it is exquisite with thick strokes being robust but not awkward, while narrow strokes are delicate but not weak. The calligraphy was completed in a rhyme with the proper use of force of the brush, light or heavy, fast or slow. Its strong and clear-cut lines and round and mellow forms present us with a fresh, clear, exquisite and closely linked work of art.
However, some calligraphy critics feel that Lanting Xu is not Wang’s best work and instead, prefer the Sangluan Tie (The Letter of Loss and Confusion).
Original works of Wang Xizhi's calligrahy are rarely seen today and most, if not all of the works we see now are rubbed copies of his works by others. It is believed that both Lanting Xu and Sangluan Tie we see today are copy works of later calligraphers. It is not deniable that later calligraphers had done a great job in making the copy works look like the original works. However, in terms of reflecting the original and spiritual mood of the calligrapher, it is pointed out that the copy work of Sang Luan Tie had captured the spirit of Wang’s writing better than that of Lanting Xu.
The text of the calligraphy says, ‘Xizhi kowtows; I am lost and confusing to extremity. The ancestry tombs came apart again! The torment poisoned and pressed me quite brutally. I cried and wailed in despair. The pain has gone through to my heart and my liver. What can I do? Although the tombs are being repaired right now, I cannot go see to the work done. Oh the sorrow, like poison, is running deep each and every moment. What can I do? How can I be? Having come to the paper, I am at a loss of what more to put down. Xizhi kowtows ... kowtows.’
Wang lived in the Wei-Jin period which was a time of turbulence and changes. The Wang family had to flee from the north to the south. It is quite obvious that this letter was written at a time when he felt he was so confused and helpless on knowing that the ancestral tombs in the north were damaged and destroyed. The anger and frustration was displayed thoroughly by words full of hopelessness and grief, and the non-conventional, bold and wild strokes.
The emotion was strong and calligraphic strokes were non-conventional in displaying that emotion – these are the conditions and elements that make Sangluan Tie a great masterpiece.
强烈的感情,以非传统的书法笔画来表达情感 – 这些都是使《丧乱帖》成为名帖的条件与因素。

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Brushwork: Zhong Feng 中鋒用笔

Cai Yong once said, ‘Let the tip of the brush always moves within the middle of the stroke.’
As Chinese calligraphy is a uniquely Chinese art, it is understandable that there is a lack of a suitable vocabulary in English for describing the subtle qualities of line that have concerned Chinese calligraphy.
Calligraphy is mainly about writing Chinese characters with lines and it uses materials such as brush, ink, and paper or silk. One of the basic criteria for good brushwork is known as zhongfeng, which literally means ‘centered tip’. The term has no equivalent in English because it is essentially meaningless for both Western oil painting, which is painted largely with a flat brush, and Western calligraphy, which is written with a stiff pen.
While it is a term that can be interpreted in different ways, the concept of the “centered tip” is absolutely crucial to an understanding of Chinese brushwork.
Zhongfeng, like many Chinese art terms, is profound in its ambiguity. It may refer to the way the brush is held, the position of the tip within the stroke, or to the brushstroke itself. The most common definition refers to the manner in which a brush is held and, in this basic usage, describes a method of holding the brush in an upright position, that is, it must be perpendicular to the writing surface - bearing in mind that almost all Chinese calligraphy is executed with the paper or silk laid out flat on a table. When the brush is held this way the tip of the brush naturally occupies the middle of the line as the calligrapher begins to create a line or stroke. No matter in which direction the brush is then moved - up, down, left, right, diagonally, or in an arc - the tip of the brush will always be within the middle of the stroke, provided that the brush continues to be held perpendicular to the writing surface. This will enable the hair of the brush-tip to spread out evenly in all directions.
It is generally agreed among experts that, when a calligraphy piece done in zhongfeng, is held up against the light, a thin line of thick ink should be seen running in the middle of the stroke, even when the stroke turns at sharp angles or in curves. Mi Fu told us that one of the best examples of zhongfeng, is Su Shi’s transcription of the Chibifu. Unfortunately the effect cannot be discerned in photographic reproductions. It is said that the entire piece is done in zhongfeng, and it remains to this day a standard phrase of critical acclaim.
就如其他的中文艺术词语一样,中锋的含义模糊不清。它可以指执笔之法,笔锋在线条内的位置,或者笔法本身。最普通的解释指执笔的方法;而这种用法是说所执的笔要正直,就是说必要与书写表面垂直 - 记住书法是在与平铺在桌面的纸张或帛布上进行书写的。当用这种方法来执笔来开始书写时,笔锋自然就占据笔画的中间部分。无论毛笔向哪一个方向移动——上下、左右、对角、圆弧——如果毛笔能够与书写面垂直,那么笔心都回在笔画的中间。这也能够使得笔锋可以均匀地分散的每一个方向。

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wang Xizhi’s Story 王羲之的故事

Wang Xizhi (321-379) was born into an aristocratic family, but he was not enthusiastic about fame and wealth. When he first arrived in Zhejiang, he wanted to end his service for the government and retire to a life of comfort. The court loved his talents and wanted to appoint him as princely attendant and imperial secretary of the Ministry of Rites. But Wang declined these appointments. He finally retired from the government service on the ground of his poor health.
When he was young, he was slow and dull. No genius could be seen. In fact, he wrote more poorly than the other children. But his diligence in later years left others far behind. Whenever he took up his brush, he would concentrate so hard that he would forget about eating and his sorrows. Even when he was eating, reading or walking, he would think about the size and structure of the words and how to wield the brush. He would write with his finger. So eventually all of his clothes and books were worn out by his constant strokes. Once he forgot to have his meal while he was practising. So his dish was put on his desk. Not knowing what he was doing, he dipped his bun into the ink and ate with great relish, his mouth blackened.
When he was 20 years old, the Emperor’s advisor Xi Jian (269-339) sent one of his associated to Wang’s father to state his wish to have one of his sons as a son-in-law. Wang’s father told the messenger to take a look at the young men in the house. The messenger later reported to Xi that the young Wangs are all suitable men. However, when he arrived there to see them, all became tense and uneasy. There was one exception. He just lay on his back with his belly uncovered, nonchalant as if he knew nothing of the purpose of his visit. On hearing this, Xi said, ‘That one will do fine.’ And that young man’s name was Wang Xizhi.
Wang Xizhi is particularly remembered for his love for geese. Legend has it that one day, he visited the beautiful landscape of Shao Xing with his son by boat. He found a flock of gooses on the bank, he liked them very much and prepared to buy all of them. These gooses were raised by a Daoist who knew Wang Xizhi was a well-known calligrapher. He said to Wang, ‘If you could write Huangtingjing for me, I will give all of these gooses to you.’ Wang Xizhi was eager to get these gooses, so he agreeably complied with his demand and conditions.
It is said that Wang learnt the key of turning his wrist in calligraphy writing by observing how the geese move their necks.
王羲之 (321-379)生于豪门大族,但他并不热心于名誉与富贵。初到浙江,他就想要辞官退休。后朝廷欲官授待中,礼部尚书、王羲之皆不接受。最后以健康理由辞官归隐。