Types, Structure and Composition of Chinese and Japanese Brushes

 

Explanation of the Structure of a Chinese Brush

Tip, Spine and Reservoir : Most standard Chinese Brushes have a defined tip. Shorter hairs form the core, or spine, of this tip. Longer hairs are arrayed to come to a point where the spine ends. Between the spine and the outside, shorter and sometimes softer hairs are used to form a sort of reservoir into which ink will flow, welling up from the Ink Slab. The core and outside will usually be of the same fur type, while the reservoir hairs might be from a different animal. This reservoir is what allows the Brush to hold enough ink for more complex characters, or even for a series of characters without the need to recharge the Brush.

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How to take care of your brush in Asian Brush Painting, Calligraphy and Sumi-e

 

Opening and preparing a Chinese Brush

Chinese Brushes are usually shipped with water-soluble glue on the hairs to maintain and protect the tip. It is imperative that this glue is removed entirely before you start using your brush. The best way to do this is to first rinse out as much glue out as you can, and then soak the brush tip. Use cool water, and make sure that you aren’t overly aggressive in rinsing, especially where the bristles meet the handle. Brushing the Tip against the palm of your hand is sufficient to loosen the glue. Once you’ve done this, a brief soak of about 30 minutes will free up all the hairs so that the ink will flow easily and fluidly. Do not leave the brush standing on its tip in a cup of water: this might damage the tip before you’ve even used the brush!

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A brief history of Chinese and Japanese Brushes

 

Ancient Origins of Chinese Brushes

Perhaps more than any of the other Four Treasures of the Studio, the Brush has the longest confirmed history in China. Brushes have been recovered from late-Zhou (c. 500 BCE) archaeological sites that do not differ substantially in design from those used today. More than this, markings on pottery as far back as the Yang Shao (c. 5000-2750 BCE) culture indicate the use of pliable instruments for the application of pigments. This preference for flexible writing instruments would continue through the Shang (c. 1600-1027 BCE) and Zhou (1027-481 BCE): evidence suggests that brush-like instruments often traced many oracle bone and bronze inscriptions before they were completed. Before paper manufacture became widespread, brushes were applied to wooden and bamboo slips, as well as for writing and painting on silk.

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