Chinese Calligraphy Technique and Learning – How to Load the Brush and how to Position your Fingers on the Brush?


A Chinese Brush is not a Pen

The first thing to note about writing Calligraphy is that a Brush is not to be held like a pen. Unlike Western alphabetic writing, Chinese writing requires equally fluid movement in all directions, not just across the page. As such, the Brush should be held perfectly vertical to the page, using all fingers and a relaxed wrist.

The Correct Wrist and Finger Positions when Holding a Chinese Brush

Begin by gripping the brush loosely between index finger and thumb. Then, wrap your middle finger slightly around the outside of this grip so that the pen rests just inside the pad of the middle finger. The ring finger goes further down and makes contact of the brush on its side or back. The little finger does not touch the brush but rather wraps inside the ring finger to give it added strength. Do not stick your little finger out: even though it doesn’t touch the brush, it is helpful in supporting the ring finger. The Brush should not be touching your palm. Also, there should be a considerable gap between your index finger and thumb: your palm should be empty. The grip should be quite loose and close to the tip of the Brush. The diagrams provided show the correct and incorrect placement of each finger, as well as a clearly improper grip.

The important thing to note about this grip is that you will be using different fingers to accomplish each possible axis of movement. The index finger will do most of the work drawing the brush down the page, while the thumb opposes it and brings the brush up the page. The middle finger flexes in toward the palm and to the right of the page, while the ring and little finger oppose it.

Wrist flexion is also very important. If the wrist is too bent, your Calligraphy will not be fluid, but rather abrupt. A good rule of thumb is that there should be no visible line on the top of your wrist where the skin is bending. A slight bend upward is to be expected, but keeping the wrist relatively straight and loose is your objective.

How to Load a Chinese Brush?

When taking ink from your Ink Slab, simply dip the brush tip in the Ink Reservoir or on to the Grinding Surface if you have no Reservoir. Unlike Western Brushes, Calligraphy Brushes are designed to be saturated with Ink from the point to where the Tip meets the Handle. However, loading too much Ink on your Brush can lead to some of it dripping out before you’ve reached your intended place on the page. As shown, it can also cause the Ink to run out too quickly in the first stroke and leave unsightly blobs and smudges. For these reasons, a very gentle press on the side of the Ink Slab will allow excess Ink to flow back onto the Slab.

Writing your first Chinese Character with a Chinese Brush

Why not try a character? The character ‘yong’ (永) is often considered an excellent practice character thanks to the fact that it contains all of the major Strokes. The diagram provided shows the proper Stroke Order and Brush direction for this character. Also, you can see all of the things we’ve talked about, from loading the Brush to the proper grip, in the video provided.