Chinese Calligraphy Technique and Learning – The Use of Ink: Wetness and Dryness


How to Control the Tone of Ink in Chinese Calligraphy?

There are a great number of strategies that calligraphers use to provide visual interest within their works. One of the easiest ways to introduce different aesthetics is to control the amount tone of the Ink used. Simply by changing the ratio of ink paste to water, the calligrapher can use different tones to express different ideas. Darker tones can be used for weighty, sober meditations, while lighter tones can betray a more fanciful mindset. Using two or more batches of different ink in a single work can provide interesting contrast, especially when more than one script is used. Experimenting with different ink tones is perhaps the simplest way to experience the vast potential contained in the simple ink stick.

How to Load and Refill your Brush in Chinese Calligraphy?

It is also possible to create contrast by increasing your control on how much Ink you use. Overfilling the Brush can sometimes lead to unsightly drips or splatters. Although this is usually avoided, some works will benefit from a liberal application of Ink. The materiality of the liquid ink will be forcefully portrayed, and the difference between the initial characters executed with an overfilled Brush and those further down the column will expose the action of the artist. Delaying the refilling of the Brush can also leave you with a split tip and lines that are not solid. The intentional use of such a delay can portray feelings of immediacy, fatigue or anxiety.

The Role of Ink Effects for Different Script Types in Chinese Calligraphy

While it may seem obvious that the Cursive or Running Scripts lend themselves most readily to Ink tone and wetness contrasting techniques, the possibility exists for some of the more regular scripts to be reinvigorated or re-imagined through the use of such techniques. A Seal Script character executed in either an overly dry or overly wet style can expose the brushwork and materiality of the media even as it maintains an archaic air. For Standard or Clerical Script, waiting until your tip starts to split and the lines begin to break can reinforce a consciousness of the artist’s presence in the work. Such treatments are clearly irreverent, but the calligraphic tradition is quite often focused on the original use of past examples: do not be afraid to improvise or break with tradition if it serves your artistic aim!

Tonal Graduations in Brush Strokes by Adding Water to the Tip of your Brush

While simply controlling the amount of Ink on the Brush is an easy way to break with established styles and experiment with the materials at your disposal, mixing ink on the brush itself is another way of making your writing more expressive and original. What this means is simply the use of both ground ink from the slab and fresh water from a separate container. By partially loading the Brush with water before applying it to the Ink slab, the ink and water will mix together during the strokes to provide a tonal gradation even within individual strokes. The most common strategy is to load only one side of the Brush with Ink, and the other with water. This will give your strokes a dark side and a light side. This is a complex strategy to do well, as the varying visual weights of the strokes make executing a coherent character that much harder. It is also possible to load only a small amount of ink to the tip after loading it with water. This will give a dark center and lighter sides. Characters executed in this way will have a light, insubstantial appearance as the ink bleeds from the center, and the edges will be incompletely resolved. In sum, remember that artistic writing comes from inventive use of the tools at your disposal. Inventive combination and sensitivity to your subject and strategy can only improve your calligraphy.