Chinese Calligraphy Technique and Learning – Basic Brush Techniques

Brush Control: Executing Pressure by Pull and Press in Chinese Brush Painting

Clearly, knowing your Strokes and Stroke Order are important for visualizing how Characters are structured, and for smoothly executing them. Still, Calligraphy is more than just writing correctly. Much of the Calligrapher’s skill lies in precise and smooth control of the brush on the page, and an appreciation and experience of how the tip bends and moves.

One of the first things one should focus on is the effect of different amounts of pressure on the page. The brush tip naturally bends and spreads out when it is pressed to the page. As a result, controlling where it bends, and how much it bends, is an excellent way to control your lines and dots. While we can explain the basics of these effects, it is crucial that the budding Calligrapher practice as much as possible to gain experience and confidence.

Varying pressure is controlled by Press (拉/La) and Pull (提/Ti). These two principles are present even in the simplest of dots. Try holding the brush still over the paper and simply pressing it down so that the tip bends against the page. Then, simply raise it. The resulting mark will not be circular: it will likely look much like the dot pictured. You will likely be able to see the point at which the tip reached its greatest Press, and where it receded back to the starting point. This is Press and Pull in a nutshell: a consciousness of how the brush is bending to affect thickness and shape.

Now, try executing a horizontal stroke while smoothly pressing and pulling. As you can see from the image provided, this results in a line with smoothly changing thickness. Using different amounts of Press and Pull, and controlling the smoothness of transition is vital to creating a work that is both consistent and appealing. Some styles, such as the Seal Styles, emphasize a relative lack of width variation: consistent pressure throughout the Stroke is used. Cursive Script and even some Standard Scripts, on the other hand, emphasize distinctive and creative use of Press and Pull.

Brush Control: Tip Movement – Center and Side Tip in Chinese Brush Painting

It’s time to pay a little more attention to the movement of the tip when you’re writing. Most often, the tip of the Brush is kept within the Stroke. That is, the edges of the stroke are traced not by the tip, but by the sides of the Brush as the tip bends. Keeping the tip concealed within the stroke makes it easier to control the smoothness of the line, as Pressing and Pulling will cause the line to expand and contract equally on either side of the tip. Writing with one side of the Brush, and the tip, is known as using a Side Tip (偏鋒/Pian Feng/Pien Feng). While this technique is sometimes used in Brush Painting, it is not ideal for most Calligraphy Styles. As you can see from the image, it can leave your strokes looking ragged and uneven. While the side where the tip was will be smooth, the opposite side will be too sensitive to unintentional movement. The best way to get a good Center Tip (中鋒/Zhong Feng/ Chung Feng) is to simply hold your brush properly, ensuring that it stays vertical to the page.