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Practising Kaishu (Regular Chinese Script) With Fountain Pens


A Smug Dill
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Apparently Chinese (or CJK – being Chinese, Japanese and Korean) ‘calligraphy’ using pointed pens is, in modern parlance, ‘a thing’; there are even Wikipedia entries in Chinese and in Japanese for it.

 

However, from the couple of practice handbooks I managed to find in bricks-and-mortar retail stores, the use of a flex or broad nib is not assumed. In fact, it is not assumed that a dip pen or fountain pen is used; I suppose the use of a pencil or ballpoint pen is not excluded.

 

What I'm interested in is, to a limited extent, mimicking the forms of brush calligraphy using fountain pens.

 

I picked up a copy of Yan's Kaishu Brush Calligraphy Forms (ISBN 9787807139157) today. It is little more than nineteen double-page spreads of lightly annotated forms taken from Yan Zhenqing's kaishu stele such as this:

 

fpn_1534955568__pages_2_and_3_of_yans_ka

 

fpn_1534955666__how_to_write_wing_and_sh

 

showing in detail how one would produce the shapes with a brush pen properly spaced inside squares. The book is nominally in simplified Chinese, but luckily Yan was an Eighth Century personality and so the glyphs are in traditional Chinese, although some of them are slightly different from what I was taught thirty-odd years ago in school.

 

This is what I want to train myself to do better, primarily by improving my motor skills and handwriting technique, but also by finding and using amenable combinations of nibs/inks/paper, is something like this:

 

fpn_1534955832__wing_and_sheung_on_daiso

 

and I'm wondering if any fellow forum members here are after, or practising, or masters at something similar.

 

(By the way, I'll note that it's not strictly necessary to use a ‘soft’, flex, fude or Concord nib to achieve some level of line variation by adjusting pressure from one's hand, and arrive at the desired shapes.)

 

I do apologise for not being able to point anyone to similar books or reference material in English; none of the titles that showed promise are available for ‘Look Inside’ on Amazon.com, and trying to find a copy of those to peruse in a bricks-and-mortar store in Sydney is close to impossible. I managed to find and borrow a copy of Learning Chinese Characters by Alison Matthews and Laurence Matthews (ISBN 9780804838160) from my local library today, but while it clearly describes the stroke order for each character, the glyphs are for simplified Chinese, and it does not show correct/recommended positions and proportioning of the components of each character inside a square.

I endeavour to be frank and truthful in what I write, show or otherwise present, when I relate my first-hand experiences that are not independently verifiable; and link to third-party content where I can, when I make a claim or refute a statement of fact in a thread. If there is something you can verify for yourself, I entreat you to do so, and judge for yourself what is right, correct for valid. I may be wrong, and my position or say-so is no more authoritative and carries no more weight than anyone else's here.

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The proportions in some of the characters are a bit off in this:

fpn_1535003905__only_newly_the_emperors_

(written on a made-in-Cambodia Daiso ‘Word Card’, with a Sailor Naginata 21K gold Concord nib upside-down)

 

Here's the text:

春寒賜浴華清池

溫泉水滑洗凝脂

侍兒扶起嬌無力

始是新承恩澤時

Edited by A Smug Dill

I endeavour to be frank and truthful in what I write, show or otherwise present, when I relate my first-hand experiences that are not independently verifiable; and link to third-party content where I can, when I make a claim or refute a statement of fact in a thread. If there is something you can verify for yourself, I entreat you to do so, and judge for yourself what is right, correct for valid. I may be wrong, and my position or say-so is no more authoritative and carries no more weight than anyone else's here.

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My sincere suggestion: if your wish is to produce brush-like calligraphy, forgo the pen and pick up a brush. It’s a very rewarding journey.

 

Perhaps consider a “fountain brush” as a convenient option? Kuretake has some pretty models, like the No. 50 Tortoiseshell Gold. You get a very decent brush tip; it can take a Platinum converter and your choice of fountain pen ink; it can be carried around; and no washing up required!

 

If you prefer to stick with fountain pens, have you tried putting a soft writing mat (硬笔书法垫板) under your paper? That’s how a lot of the written examples from China achieve their thickened stroke-endings – even when using a regular gel pen (中性笔).

 

And I think it's worth looking for instruction material geared specifically for pen writing rather than brush writing, as the techniques (as well as the whole aesthetic) are not really transferable between the two implements. Some very inspiring videos out there, like this one.

 

On the subject of character construction (间架), this set of exemplars looks good. I especially like that it points out niceties that are easily missed, e.g. Principle 5: A character's central downstroke should not be written perfectly vertical but should be angled ever so slightly out to the right, to avoid looking wooden.

 

Happy writing :)

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dumaresq, thank you for the suggestions and the links!

 

I had to do Chinese brush calligraphy as schoolboy, and I don't remember it with fondness. I also doubt I can write legibly inside 5mm squares or even 6mm squares with a brush, and that is my preferred size and density when writing more than 30 characters in Chinese at a go. What I want to achieve is a classier-than-chicken-scratch aesthetic with a (flex or non-flex) pointed pen, and put the proper/classic shapes of each stroke on the page, in much the way someone may want line variation or even shading in English handwriting from a fountain pen.

 

I have some Kuratake Zig brush pens coming in the post soon; would that be similar to the fountain brush in its use and output? I'd imagine we're talking about writing with a ‘tripod grip’ around the section of the pen, instead of allowing the pen to drop almost vertically from above where the strokes are to be made.

 

I haven't heard of a soft writing mat as an accessory or aid, but I'll definitely look into it.

I endeavour to be frank and truthful in what I write, show or otherwise present, when I relate my first-hand experiences that are not independently verifiable; and link to third-party content where I can, when I make a claim or refute a statement of fact in a thread. If there is something you can verify for yourself, I entreat you to do so, and judge for yourself what is right, correct for valid. I may be wrong, and my position or say-so is no more authoritative and carries no more weight than anyone else's here.

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Silly me, I only just realised last night that the grey-coloured practice pages on the right-hand side of each double-page spread is meant to be filled in by brush strokes using just water, which will leave a dark mark on whatever material is covering the paper as if it was written on with ink, but then dries quickly and leave no marks, so the pages can be reused again and again for practice!


I think this nifty feature changes the whole value proposition, and at A$3.50 a copy I think it's a steal, so I went back to the bookstore today and bought three-quarters of its remaining stock of that book. (The remaining copies are a bit bent or tarnished; I think the stock is pretty old.) I also looked online for that ISBN the other night, and was surprised to see all the offers on Abebooks asked for north of US$43 a copy plus shipping! The price that was printed on the back cover by the publisher translates to about A$2.98 at this week's currency exchange rates.

I endeavour to be frank and truthful in what I write, show or otherwise present, when I relate my first-hand experiences that are not independently verifiable; and link to third-party content where I can, when I make a claim or refute a statement of fact in a thread. If there is something you can verify for yourself, I entreat you to do so, and judge for yourself what is right, correct for valid. I may be wrong, and my position or say-so is no more authoritative and carries no more weight than anyone else's here.

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Hello there!

You have very nice, strong strokes in your characters! I didn't know there'd be people interested in Chinese calligraphy on this forum. Then again, I'm new :)

I also remember doing brush calligraphy in primary school; we then moved on to fountain pen calligraphy in middle school. Just curious; you said you did brush calligraphy in school as well? Where did you grow up?

Anyway, hope you have fun practicing!

Sic volvere parcas.

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@morethanjustacat, you're too kind! I wouldn't call anything I do with my fountain pens calligraphy; I just try to make my handwriting legible and not too much of an eye-sore, that's all. I went to school in Hong Kong. I was one of those bad students who never properly learnt to use my elbow and arm to control the rise and fall of the brush tip (especially when using a fine brush), and the way I apply pressure to the nib on the fountain pen when laying down strokes reflects that.

I endeavour to be frank and truthful in what I write, show or otherwise present, when I relate my first-hand experiences that are not independently verifiable; and link to third-party content where I can, when I make a claim or refute a statement of fact in a thread. If there is something you can verify for yourself, I entreat you to do so, and judge for yourself what is right, correct for valid. I may be wrong, and my position or say-so is no more authoritative and carries no more weight than anyone else's here.

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Ah, I see. Your handwriting looks pretty good as it stands :) Maybe I'll get around to practicing my Chinese handwriting some day...

Sic volvere parcas.

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I'm interested in learning CJK calligraphy. Unfortunately I don't know the language which I suspect would be a great help. It's the incentive I need to stop procrastinating and get started.

 

There is a free class at the local library which I will now book in. :-)

 

Recently I've received a Duke 551 to review and it has a fude nib which is said to be good for CJK calligraphy. It does have the longest fude nib that I've seen so hope it works.

 

 

On the subject of character construction (间架), this set of exemplars looks good. I especially like that it points out niceties that are easily missed, e.g. Principle 5: A character's central downstroke should not be written perfectly vertical but should be angled ever so slightly out to the right, to avoid looking wooden.

 

 

 

Unfortunately I was lost in the translation so unable to download a set of exemplars. However, they do look good.

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I'm interested in learning CJK calligraphy.

I'll be happy to throw in for you a copy of the book I mentioned in the first post, when I send the pass-around box of pens and inks out.

 

Unfortunately I don't know the language which I suspect would be a great help.

Yes, it would. That said, my fiancée – who was born here in Australia, and her family doesn't speak Chinese at home – has been learning a little bit of Chinese (well, spoken Cantonese) from me lately, and in the process has also picked up how to write some of the simpler (but in ‘traditional Chinese’ form, and not simplified Chinese form) characters; not only that, she's pretty much figured out the general logic for stroke order and direction, and when she sees an unfamiliar character she can generally reproduce it in the correct manner of writing without further prompting.

 

There is a free class at the local library which I will now book in. :-)

Good on ya!

 

Recently I've received a Duke 551 to review and it has a fude nib which is said to be good for CJK calligraphy. It does have the longest fude nib that I've seen so hope it works.

I have a Duke pen with a fude nib, and it produces simulated brush strokes okay in upright position (even though I can't quite get it to write consistently in a fine line width when held upside down). It's not the pen with the bamboo barrel, though; I have one of those (unused), but it came with a Fine nib.

 

Unfortunately I was lost in the translation so unable to download a set of exemplars.

It's a bit of a struggle to get the 18.1MB download going, but Safari on my Mac is doing it now, so I'll have a look later to see if it works.

I endeavour to be frank and truthful in what I write, show or otherwise present, when I relate my first-hand experiences that are not independently verifiable; and link to third-party content where I can, when I make a claim or refute a statement of fact in a thread. If there is something you can verify for yourself, I entreat you to do so, and judge for yourself what is right, correct for valid. I may be wrong, and my position or say-so is no more authoritative and carries no more weight than anyone else's here.

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