Chinese Calligraphy Technique and Learning – The Aesthetic Concept of Balance

What is the Aesthetic Concept of Balance in Chinese Calligraphy?

When it comes to writing Chinese Characters, especially with an artistic aim in mind, it is important to have a sense not only of each individual stroke and radical, but also of how these elements relate to each other coherently and beautifully. A well-written character will have balance both within the space it is written, between individual strokes, and between the radicals. What is meant by this?

Balance on the Page of a Calligraphy Artwork

When it comes to the space around the character, it is good to remember that the blank field of the paper is just as important as the characters that are written on it. While the character should be centered in its field, it should neither leave too much, nor too little of the paper blank. Depending on the complexity of the character, the calligrapher may choose to make some characters quite small. However, this does not mean that the surrounding characters should crowd in and smother it. Each character should be given space to breathe.

The Dynamic Line Balance on a Chinese Calligraphy Artwork

It is vitally important to the calligraphic art that the artist develop a strong sense of how lines relate to each other. If we think of the characters as structures, we begin to see how they interact to the forces around them and maintain coherence. Consider the basic characters for ‘two’ and ‘three’: 二,三 (Er, San). In ‘Er’, you can see that the top line is shorter than the bottom line. We might think of this as expressive of a downward weight pressing a column from above, creating an expansion of the foot. In ‘San’, we see that the middle line is shortest: the other two embrace it and the character remains dynamic and coherent. Paying close attention to the lengths of lines in relation to others is the most important facet of line balance. When we try to make lines identical, we do not express the way in which each is meant to respond to the presence of another, and coherence is lost. When the wrong line is emphasized, balance is disrupted and the character will appear unstable.

Balancing Radicals on a Chinese Calligraphy Artwork

Once you’ve got a basic understanding of how lines of different lengths relate to each other in more simple characters, you can turn your attention to the radicals within characters. Once again, balance is not achieved simply by making each element the same size, or by lining them up in a row. For example, consider the two characters written at left. One has each element written in the same position, taking up the same amount of space. The other has the left element placed slightly lower than the right. Neither is technically incorrect, but the latter example has the two elements in a relationship with each other, not with some arbitrary system of placement. Balance in this sense does not simply mean that things are the same, but that there is an expression of the balancing relationship of all elements.