Chinese Calligraphy Technique and Learning – The Aesthetic Concept of Regularity and Flow

What is the Role of Regularity and Rhythm in a Chinese Calligraphy Artwork?

One of the first things you’ll notice when viewing a calligraphic work in Li Shu or Kai Shu is that the characters are all of generally the same size. Similarly, it is common that each column of text will contain the same number of Characters. Even when it comes to Xing Shu and Cao Shu, you’ll note that although characters might be linked together, they each inhabit a similar amount of space on the page. Although there is certainly great potential for variety and expression in calligraphic characters, careful character spacing and sizing is the best ways to create a clear rhythm for a piece. This consciousness of regular spacing can be likened to the tempo of a piece of music. Indeed, the points at which characters exceed the assumed boundaries might be viewed as the sustaining of a single note, or an increase in volume. Thus, the dynamics of the work are exposed even as the over-arching scheme or tempo remains clear.

There is simply no way to explain how to ensure that your characters all conform to a basic rhythmic regularity other than simply to practice. Indeed, the customary use of a practice grid will keep you within the established rhythm for your first forays into calligraphy. Soon, you’ll find yourself unconsciously sizing and spacing your characters. Later, you’ll be able to improvise and show your understanding of convention by breaking from it.

How to Plan out your Space in a Chinese Calligraphy Artwork?

Of course, most calligraphic works will have quite a few characters in each column. It is vital that you determine in advance how many characters will be in each line, and plan your use of space accordingly. Arriving at the end of the page only to find that you have no room to continue is always a disappointment!

Some lines, of course, may have different numbers of characters. If your sentences or thoughts are too long for a single column, by all means move on to the next one. Stopping at the end of an incomplete column in order to start a new idea at the top of the page is a strategy that can be used to provide some more visual interest and rhythm to the piece: think of it as a thoughtful pause.

Establishing a Flow in your Brush Strokes

Each Script and Style will demand a different treatment of rhythm. The formal scripts are deliberate, the informal can be quite accidental. In order to focus on the work at hand, enter into a good writing mindset, and avoid mistakes, becoming familiar with the number of characters or strokes your brush can achieve before it needs refilling is of paramount importance. Pausing in the middle of a character is not ideal. Thus, gauging whether or not you’ll be able to complete a character with the Ink you have left is a skill that can only be gained with practice. You may find that you do not wish to pause when you begin to have a split tip. It is acceptable to simply rotate the brush in the fingers to use a different side of the tip for those last few strokes.

The Importance of Strong Rhythm for the Cursive Script Styles in Chinese Calligraphy

Familiarity with the different Scripts will allow the artist to make decisions about the type of style they think a certain piece warrants. Developing an almost unconscious conception of proper Stroke Order is vital to one’s ability to begin executing the more informal cursive scripts. The cursive scripts are known as personal styles for a reason: each calligrapher will make their own improvisations based on the original, regular stroke order. It is best not to fill the mind with too many ‘standards’ for the cursive scripts: it is bet to just write naturally and focus on your own brush movements and breathing. When it comes to linking whole characters together, legibility is secondary to evoking the movement of the brush in response to the feelings of the moment.