(Hello, last Wednesday of March. Where did you come from??) As part of my resolution-making way back in January, I decided I would learn a new skill this year. For some reason, my brain settled on calligraphy. I don't really know why, except that I do love writing with a nice pen on nice paper. Not long after that, I was poking around in Barnes and Noble and came across Suvana Lin's Chinese Calligraphy Workbook: 50 Characters to Inspire PEACE and CALM. (Yes, capitalized and everything, so you know it must be true.)
I had thought I would start with Ye Olde English Calligraphy. But I was intrigued by the idea of inspiring peace and/or calm, and Lin's book is pretty to look at and very straightforward. A few key points about the process:
- China's earliest form of written communication is oracle shell writing, which dates back approximately 3,500 years.
- The Chinese consider calligraphy to be a regimen to calm the mind and nurture the heart.
- Traditional calligraphers make their own ink by grinding an ink stick in water on an ink stone or slab. This has the additional benefit of warming up the hand and wrist.
- The preferred paper is Xuan paper, made of 40-80% elm bark.
- Each character belongs to a "radical," which is like a root. The radical for waterfall, for example, is water.
- The 8 basic strokes are always done in order.
I'm sorry to report that I did not grind my own ink. Instead, I used a brush marker I picked up from the craft store. The book includes plenty of practice space, so I didn't feel the need to track down the special elm bark paper, either. Each day, I practiced for at least fifteen minutes. As advised in the book, I started with the easiest character: one--a single, straight horizontal line. In addition to representing the number one, it also means "only," "single-minded," "special," and "unique."
Over the course of the week, I grew fairly comfortable tracing even the more elaborate characters but was less successful winging it on blank paper. I usually got close enough, though, that someone who knows could probably recognize what I was getting at--the same way I can read a teenage boy's messy penmanship. Because I was pretty focused on trying to do it right, I didn't achieve much peace or calm. But with practice, it seems entirely likely. There is something very meditative about completing the correct strokes in the correct order, with the result being both beautiful and meaningful.
There are plenty of characters in the book for me to continue to learn and practice, so this one is a Take It.