Friday, November 5, 2010
Wang Xizhi on Calligraphic Copying Skills 王羲之谈临帖
We noted that one of the most important ways of learning Chinese calligraphy is copying the model calligraphic works. The sage of calligraphy Wang Xizhi (321 - 379) was obviously an advocate of this way of acquiring calligraphic skills. The following essay was written by him advising his son Wang Xianzhi on copying techniques. His son Xianzhi is also a great calligrapher in the history of calligraphy.
Paper is the battlefield; brush is the sword; ink is the helmet and armour; ink stone is the castle; skill is the commander; conception is his assistant; structure is the strategy. To move a brush is to take a risk; to start a stroke is to issue an order; to draw a turning stroke is to kill. Writing the dots is like letting quarry stones fall freely, writing the slanting stroke is like slaying the enemies. To write freely so that the strokes are fast and sharp, to manipulate the brush so as to achieve harmony, to pause and turn is to achieve the pressing effect of the slanting slope.
Do not expect to write as well as the model calligraphic work in terms of the structure and composition on first try. The first round of copying is to get the sitting posture right and learn how to write correctly. The second round of copying will enable you understand the structure of the characters. The third round of copying should result in the shape of your writing looks like the model work. The fourth round of practice will add strength and quality to your strokes. The fifth round of copying will train you in applying all the brush techniques, such as how to start and end, and proper way of pressing down and lifting up the brush, etc. If you feel lacking fluency in the writing process, please do not stop writing and give up. It is better to write two or three rows rather than write nothing. The first goal of practicing calligraphy by copying is to write smoothly and decisively, never mind how many times you need to practice.