An Overview of Chinese Paper


Characteristics of Chinese Paper: Absorbency and Treatment (Processing State)

Traditional Chinese arts stress the quality of the materials and tools used just about as much as their artistic use. Even more than choosing Ink or Brush, the Paper selected has a direct impact on the type of Script you might lean toward.

The most important factor that influences how a paper performs with a traditional Brush and Ink is the absorbency. If the absorbency is too great, the ink will be very hard to control. Although this, like having a Soft Brush, can lead to interesting ‘accidental’ effects, highly absorbent paper is usually reserved for the more fluid scripts such as Cao Shu (草書/  Ts’ao Shu) and Xing Shu (行書/ Hsing Shu) (Xing Shu article), where each rapid movement of the brush can be accurately recorded. In order to limit absorbency and strengthen the paper, alum is often used in a treatment process. Some papers are only partially treated in this manner. Thus, different types of paper are said to fall on a continuum from raw (untreated) to mature (treated).

Chinese Shuen Paper – A Premium Art Supply

The most highly prized paper for producing Chinese Calligraphy and Painting is known as Xuan Paper  (宣紙/ Xuan Zhi / Hsuan Chih). Due to its relative expense, high-quality Xuan Paper is usually not used for practice. As the primary focus of practice is gaining confidence with the Brush and Ink, the quality of the paper is secondary. Still, some Xuan Paper is transparent enough that it can be used to copy works. Copying is a very important part of the traditional learning process. Although Western arts stress originality over imitation, this is not the case in China, and especially in the Calligraphy tradition. Being able to master the techniques of others is seen as a qualifying ability that must be attained before one may be truly called a Calligraphist.

The Xuan Paper that has on offer uses a variety of plant products in its production. Key among these is the use of Qing Tan Tree (青檀樹 / Qing Tan Shu / Ch’ing T’an Shu) pulp.

The Role and Types of Practicing Paper in Chinese and Japanese Brush Painting

For the beginner especially, paper to practice on is vitally important. When it comes to practice, the modern Calligrapher or Painter has a great many resources that might not have been available in the past. Not only is there relatively inexpensive Practice Xuan Paper available, but products such as Magic Water Paper make it very easy to become familiar with your Brush Strokes. Many Beginners like to keep a record of their first forays into Calligraphy, and for this purpose, a Xuan Paper Notebook or gridded Practice Paper is ideal.

A note on Grids: many Practice papers are divided up in a grid so that the beginner has some kind of guide when it comes to determining proper character size and placement. The main thing to notice when it comes to Grids is whether there is anything printed in the cells. The two main types of Grid are the Rice Grid and the Nine Palace Grid. The Rice Grid takes its name from the character for Rice, as the cells are divided into eight in such a way that they resemble the character ‘mi’ (米). A Nine Palace Grid is one in which each cell is further divided into nine equal squares.

Other Chinese Art Papers and the Truth about Rice Paper

Many different Chinese Art papers are commonly referred to in the West as ‘rice paper’. This is inevitably a misnomer, as rice is not used in the production of paper. Mian Paper, sometimes also erroneously called Cotton Paper, is a low-cost paper suitable for Calligraphy practice, and is commonly available in Western art supply stores. Mao Bian Paper (毛邊紙/ Mao Bian Zhi / Mao Bien Chih) is the paper usually associated with practice grids, and is ideal for the aspiring Calligraphist. Luckily, makes it very convenient to access good-quality practice Xuan Paper, something that is very difficult to find in the Western market.