17 Stroking Tips, Chinese Calligraphy

17 Stroking Tips, Chinese Calligraphy

One of the more beautiful art forms that Chinese produce for mass consumption is calligraphy. It’s made its way into artwork and even on peoples’ skins.

Perhaps its simplicity in our complicated times provides a respite, or perhaps the unknown meanings of the characters provide an air of the mysterious. In any case, learning Chinese calligraphy is part of adopting into Chinese discipline.

If you tend to be somewhat shy, you may consider locking your door and closing your curtains when you practice your strokes.

To get started, you’ll need a brush, some ink and a long piece of paper. You will also need to know what you want to calligraficate.

Each stroke in every Chinese character is precise to how the brush articulates the ink on paper. Lines and dashes and hooks are confident and sharp. Much like kung-fu, calligraphy is a martial art. One must be skilled, aware and breathing properly in order to execute the moves that are necessary to produce the character properly. Discipline and concentration with great intensity are required, yet one must move gracefully and easily.

Calligraphy is about control. And the words provide even deeper meaning, to which a poem, a proverb or even a single word has impact to whoever reads them. It can be decorative like a painting or clean like a business letter, but its form always makes a statement.

The brush is your sword. It must be gripped the way it was meant to be for maximum handling and speed. You will need at least five fingers to grip it properly. Your middle, ring and pinky fingers will act as support, while the index and thumb will be the muscle.

Position the brush so that it is perpendicular to the paper and lock all parts from the elbow down to the fingertips. Use your shoulders to act as the guide and move the brush in a rhythm.

To know what it means to move like a Chinese person, rotate your head in circles around as you would to relieve stress in your neck and shoulders. Now make the rotation as small as it can be and sway gently.

Or if you ever see a scene from a Chinese opera, they all have a similar swaying rhythm—a sort of droning chant. That’s the rhythm you need to become a calligrapher. That’s the speed and flare you must have on paper or you are a complete and mere hack.

Choose your words precisely as well. I suggest copying a poem or proverb from somewhere as many Chinese do. Find something that speaks to you. Analyze each character and break it down to its basic strokes.

Chinese characters all have a stroke order and knowing the proper order means the difference between calligraphy and scribbling. Start with the top left hand corner of the word and work you way down the character. Note each stroke.

You may want to practice for several days in order to get the right strokes.

  1. Perform the strokes for at least six times a day for twenty to thirty minutes per session in a quiet place. This is how long children in Chinese countries spend working on their strokes.
  2. If you tend to be somewhat shy, you may consider locking your door and closing your curtains when you practice your strokes.
  3. Remember to vary your strokes from long ones to short ones and the more advanced hook-shapes.
  4. You can also vary the speed at which you practice.
  5. Work on getting each stroke to mean something of value.
  6. Make sure the tip is wet before the stroke.
  7. If you have to, re-wet the tip before each stroke.
  8. Also make sure that you make good contact with the surface so that you only get the strokes you want. The tip should coast on the surface effortlessly.
  9. Do not be surprised if you find yourself enjoying the strokes more and more.
  10. Remember to be confident and comfortable about the strokes and to never rush.
  11. Some strokes will likely be more difficult than others and it is better to be good than fast. For those, it is better not to get frustrated and know that the purpose of practicing your strokes is to become proficient at it.
  12. Don’t give up. If you need to, find a partner so you can practice strokes together, or in a pinch, try watching videos of others performing their strokes to inspire you.
  13. You may also want to start a local club where people interested in working on their strokes can come together in a safe environment to improve their technique.
  14. Watching other people work on their strokes can be both illuminating and exciting. It might also inspire you to work on your strokes with greater intensity.
  15. Many websites also offer advice on strokes. There are some very excellent strokes out there and it would benefit you to learn from them.
  16. Be sure to clean up after your strokes. Nothing is more embarrassing than finding wet spots after a feverish stroke session. Have plenty of tissue and newspaper around to catch the droppings.
  17. Never wipe otherwise it might smear. Instead, you should dab carefully until dry.

This hobby can be very messy if you’re not careful.

Photo Credit: The Integer Club via Compfight cc

With decades of experience being Chinese in America, I am fully qualified to tell Real-Americans everything they need to know about being Chinese.