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Essential Items for Chinese Calligraphy

Updated on July 27, 2012

Four Treasures

  • Paper - You can use catus paper, grass paper, plain wallpaper, and red paper. Xuan is a certain type of paper that is mostly used in modern calligraphy and Chinese painting. The paper is made of sandalwood, straw, bamboo, and bark. These give the paper it's thin, soft, and absortent texture. The three main types of Xuan paper are: raw, shu, and semi-raw. Raw is most suitable for painting and is more absorbent. Shu is more specifically related to calligraphy yet has a lesser degree of absorbency. Semi-raw has the least amount of absorbency.
  • Brushes - Brushes are usually made of anial hair in a bamboo tube. The best brushes for beginners are from wolf hair, weasel, rabit, or mixed. Check the fullness, resilience, and evenness of a brush before purchasing it. When using new brushes, remove and get rid of the lid. Soak it in warm water for 20 minutes, usually depending on the size of the brush, until the glue coating the hair has dissolved. Use your fingers to reshape the brush since the water took out it's shape. Clean the brushes by holding the brush down under a running tap until the water runs clear. Gently sqeeze the excess water and smooth and reshape the hair with your fingers. Hang the brush, tip down, on the stand by the ittle loop on the handle until dry. If you do not have a brush stand, you can place the brush directly in a brush pot to dry.
  • Ink - Chinese ink is mixed soot collected from burnt pine or oil with gue. The best quality inks have a clear sound when tapped by your fingers, should be hard and heavy. The lighter the sheen, the poorer quality of the ink. The different types of ink consist as pine oil ink stick, oil ink stick, pine lampblack ink stick, and bottled ink. Try to use the bottled ink to practice with and then move into the stick ink.
  • Ink stone - This is used for grinding the ink. It can be made of stone or clay and will be smooth so not to damage your ink stick. Drip some water, not too much, onto the ink stone. Hold the ink stick upright and use some movement to grind evenly in one direction. Try not to press too hard. This way the stone and ink stick will not be damaged. The ink will thicken when ready. Test it on the paper to check and see if it has the consistency you desire. Good consistency will let you lift the brush off the paper without dragging on it. If the ink is too thick, add some more water and grind a little more. When you finish grinding, wipe off the ink with tissues and rinse the ink stone and let it dry. Pour a little water into the ink stone so it is ready for future use and will not crack.

Tools for Paper

You will need a blanket and a paperweight. The blanket is to cover your work table. This way any ink spilled will not stain your table so you can use it again for something else, say a puzzle or give it to a family member in a couple of years. Paperweights are necessary. Your hand will be moving across the page to grab different brushes, grind more ink, etc. If your page moves, ink could blur and the entire page will look unprofessional. Also, Chinese paper is known to roll which would harm your art work. You can make your own paperweights with pebbles, a piece of word, or even a piece of pottery.

Tools for Brushes

You will need a brush stand, brush pot, brush rest, bamboo mat, brush wash, water container with a spout, and tissue paper.

A brush stand is needed to hang the brushes, tip down, to dry after cleaning. This way you will get the most out of your brushes and they will last longer. A brush pot is to keep dry brushes with their tips upward. The brush rest is to keep your brushes in place when you are not using them. This way they will not roll or fall off the desk, getting ink everywhere and making a mess. They are usually made of metal or ceramic. However, you can even use a chopstic rest as one. A bamboo mat is to store brushes when traveling. It prevents the tips from getting damaged. A brush wash is a glass container filled with clean water. Make sure to wash the water out before and after each use. To drip water into the ink when mixing, use a water container with a spout. It is necessary to also have a roll of tissue paper near when doing Chinese calligraphy. You never know when something will need to be cleaned up.

Name Seals

Name seals have existed for generations in Chinese calligraphy and in other areas of the world as well. A good calligrapher who desires to appear authentic will have their cinnabar paste and personalized name seal.

Seal making itself is considered an art. They can be square, round, or irregular. Soapstone is preferred because its softness makes it easy to engrave. However, there are also two different types of seals: name seals and leisure seals. Name seals are to state the personal identification on documents, clligraphy, or paintings. An artists name seal is normally blow their name. The leisure seal is more for fun. Anything could be engraved on a leisure seal. A short phrase, maybe of wisdom, or meaningful image, such as a dragon, to accent the other words on the page.

Red cinnabar paste is used, much like ink, to stamp the seal. Normally calligraphy ink is black which is why the paste is a contrasting red color. There are different sizes of pots that the paste comes in for different seal sizes. Keep the lid on the container to prevent the paste from drying.


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    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 5 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      Japanese calligraphy uses the same materials. I picked up a bunch of materials from a 100 yen store (dollar store) -- these are only suitable for beginner work and use liquid ink and a plastic ink-'stone'. It's a inexpensive beginning, much cheaper than the kits available in stationary stores. Although I do love the hand-carved ink stones and paperweights!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This type of calligraphy to which you are referring is obviously for painting. I took a calligraphy class...actually two different ones to learn some of the lettering techniques using calligraphy pens. Fun! I still occasionally use them to write people's names on cards for formal dinner settings. Voted up and interesting.