Friday, July 30, 2010

Brush Techniques: Slanted-tip for Writing Beautifully 笔法:侧锋取妍

One of the most important aspects of brush techniques is the emphasis on the proper use of the tip of the brush. The most preferred technique is known as zhongfeng, which literally means ‘centred tip’. (See diagram above.) While writing the character the brush is held vertically so that the tip of the brush always moves within the middle of the stroke. A character written this way is said to be vigorous, smooth and natural.
Opposite of zhongfeng is the use of the side of the brush, when the tip of the brush moves along one side of the stroke so that its direction and the path of movement of the brush form a right angle. This way of moving the brush is known as pianfeng, or sided-tip. (See diagram above.) Since ancient time, pianfeng technique is never advocated by calligraphers and a stroke written this way is considered to be a failure.
When the tip of the brush moves in an angle which is between zhongfeng and pianfeng, it is known as cefeng, or slanted-tip. (See diagram below.)
Ancient calligraphers paid much attention to the zhongfeng technique; some even advocated that every stroke must be written using zhongfeng. But not everyone was convinced of this theory. In one essay written in Ming dynasty, the writer Ni Sumen expressed his doubt by saying, ‘Wang Xizhi and Xianzhi did not always use zhongfeng. This fact was not discovered or mentioned by the ancients… However, when calligraphers use the brush, it must be used in a lively and flexible way, and that the brush must be approached from various angles. This is to reflect the spirit of brush writing. How can we take zhongfeng as the only acceptable method and thereby limit ourselves?’
Another scholar Wang Shizhen of Ming dynasty wrote, ‘Since the ancient time, zhongfeng and cefeng had never been an issue. As I am currently focusing on studying Zhu Jingzhao’s calligraphy, I may take the opportunity to talk about it. Sushi and Wang Tingjian used cefeng for all their strokes, and Zhang Xu and Huai Su used it occasionally. Even Wang Xizhi could not avoid using it when writing the walking and cursive scripts. This is because zhongfeng is used for writing vigorously and steadily, while cefeng for writing dynamically beautiful lines and, one could not control which way to go. Wen Zhenming regularly used cefeng when writing small size characters. So cefeng is not only used by Zhu Jingzhao, and how could the use of it stop the works from being model works?’
Huang Tingjian pointed out that ‘to write calligraphy properly and steadily (by using zhongfeng), one is constrained by its rules. On the other hand, to write beautifully by using cefeng, one always ends up in gaining some desired results and losing some.’
Zhu Hegeng of Qing dynasty concluded, ‘zhengfeng is for writing vigorous and steady strokes and cefeng for dynamically beautiful strokes.’
Therefore, it is necessary to apply both zhongfeng and cefeng so as to achieve the effects of both vigorous and beautiful strokes.

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