The Different Types of Chinese Brush Painting and Calligraphy Ink

What you Should Know about Black Inks in Chinese Brush Painting and Calligraphy

An artist who produces traditional Chinese Arts can do a great deal with only simple Black Ink. As one of the Four Treasures, Ink Sticks have enjoyed a long and involved history as part of Chinese culture.

Black is definitely the most common colour for Chinese Ink, being the easiest to produce. Black Ink also looks great by itself against the traditionally white background of Chinese Paper.

Black Inks may contain a great number of natural ingredients that serve purposes such as maintaining the strength of the stick before and between uses, providing deeper textures, subtly altering the colour, or improving the binding qualities. The appreciation of the Ink Stick itself is so high that sometimes plant ingredients are added for no other reason than to improve the odour of the Stick.

Still, the fundamental ingredient of Chinese Ink is pine charcoal. More specifically, Chinese Ink uses a specific type of soot called lampblack that occurs only in very controlled circumstances of high heat and no oxygen. The soot that results from a proper process will be almost entirely Carbon. In order to remove ash and tarry, the soot is usually allowed to drift some considerable distance before collecting. While chemical dyes may provide similar effects to natural carbon, they have the tendency to bleed over time, making them unsuitable for valued artworks.

The quality of the glue used to hold the soot together is also vitally important to a Stick’s quality. The finest inks are only about 20% glue, while lesser qualities are about half carbon, half glue.

Most Chinese artists prefer to grind their own Inks. Nevertheless, prepared Inks vary only slightly in their essential ingredients: their preparation is simply in the adding of water to the raw Ink materials. If an artist ever wishes to vary the consistency of their ink, however, this is most easily achieved by grinding one’s own ink.

Usage and Characteristics of Colored Inks and Watercolors in Chinese Brush Painting

Chinese Ink Painting will often use a variety of vibrant colours. These colours are traditionally achieved with natural pigments. For a pigment to be suitable to Chinese Painting, it should be soluble in water but waterproof after it dries on paper. We refer to these products as Inks because the pigments are combined with many of the same ingredients that go into the traditional Black Inks, and the resulting products behave on the Ink Slab, Brush and paper in much the same way. By mixing natural pigments together, it is possible to make a great many colours.

In calligraphy, it is most common to use only Black Ink when writing. This preference may be traced back to the very emergence of writing, in the bamboo and silk manuscripts of the Zhou Dynasty. Since that time over two thousand years ago, Black Ink has served as the primary media of Chinese calligraphy. Some modern artists nevertheless may use any number of colours to provide visual interest. It is also common for a calligraphy Master to write practice characters for their students in Red Ink from cinnabar, or to correct student work in red. Likewise, a Red Ink Pad will commonly be used for applying Seals to finished works.