An Introduction to Chinese Calligraphy

My weekly classes have both been together for a number of years and they pretty much decide what we cover each term.

So, when someone expressed an interest in Chinese Calligraphy, I drafted in Jayamini de Silva as a guest tutor to run an introductory workshop.

Jayamini is originally from Sri Lanka and studied for several years in China before moving to England.

She had to learn the language – and there’s a lot to learn!

There is no Chinese alphabet, just characters, of which there are between 50,000 and 60,000.

Jayamini says you need to know 5,000 characters just to read a newspaper.

The characters are formed via a series of strokes and the most complicated has 52 strokes – and is the symbol for biang (noodles).

Trying Chinese Calligraphy for the first time

Jayamini started by introducing us to the tools used for Chinese calligraphy – a brush made with animal hair (goat, weasel or horse), bamboo holder and ink.

The brushes were soaked in the ink before being dabbed on a napkin to remove any excess and twisted to form a point at the tip of the brush.

We did our first strokes on old newspapers, holding the brush upright and applying pressure to form thick and thin lines.

We then moved on to the eight basic strokes on special Chinese calligraphy rice paper, which is gridded with dotted horizontal, vertical and diagonal guidelines.

Jayamini then took us through some basic symbols for words like ren (person), shang (upper/on) and xiao (small/young).

Apparently, she could see the power in some of my strokes!

Writing the signs of the Chinese Zodiac

In the second session, Jayamini taught us the Chinese Zodiac and we wrote the characters before choosing our own to write on a card to take home.

I was born in the Year of the Dog, which makes me loyal, honest, amiable, kind, cautious and prudent, apparently!

Jayamini trained as an art conservator and is now an art teacher, running classes for children and adults. For more information, visit her website here.

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