WHAT THIS CATEGORY IS ABOUT
Chinese and Japanese ink sticks are the original ink medium used in Oriental brush painting in Japan and China alike. Ink created with ink sticks which are known simply as 墨 (mò) in Chinese, is normally the most original ink which Chinese artists use for all kinds of traditionally inspired artworks - not only calligraphy types such as Chinese calligraphy or Japanese Kanji or Shodo calligraphy but also for the different painting schools such as Sumi-e (Shuimohua / 水墨画 in Chinese), Gongbi or Fineline painting and for less common schools such as the Lingnan school from the South of China which is now Guangdong province.
The ingredients of a Chinese ink stick are a mystery carefully guarded by the few remaining manufactories of the century old tradition of ink stick production. The secret of which ingredients are used has often been handed down from master to master over the generations with the result that even today, the best known ink stick brands still bear the name of the family that produces a certain type of ink stick.
Until today, the manufacturing of ink sticks is a craft even protected by the government since each quality ink stick is produced by hand by first kneading the dough, then pressing it into a special mould and then drying it until it has the perfect consistency to be used.
The basic ingredients of each Oriental ink stick are plant soots, animal and plant oils, graphite produced from charcoal, plant dyes and often elements of other mineral inks. To add fragrance, some ink sticks traditionally contained certain types of Chinese medicine as well giving them names such as "Fragrant Ink Stick" and at times, certain ink sticks were really used as a medicine due to the ingredients they contained.
There are several characteristics defining the quality of a Chinese ink stick. One being it long lasting, allowing to store it for many many years without being affected by humidity, moisture or mildew and still keeping its original characteristics. Cheaper ink sticks will get dry and crack after being stored for a long time. The other one is how the ink stick interacts firstly with the ink slab on which it is grounded after adding different drips of water by means of a water dropper until the desired thickness and consistency is reached, the other one the interaction of the ink produced by a specific ink stick on the paper - mostly Xuen paper.
Apart from the color, the shine and glossiness of the surface, Chinese calligraphy and painting masters also judge a sticks quality by its fragrance, the sound and smoothness when grinding it on an ink stone, the interaction with water and finally the result it produces on Chinese rice paper.
For our shop we tried to assemble different types of Oriental ink sticks - from beginner ink sticks which are comparatively cheap to more specialized ones to some collectors' ink sticks where the engravings and paintings with which the stick is decorated are an artwork by themselves. The sets of colored ink sticks are normally not of the same quality as the individually sold darker ink sticks but we wanted to add them to allow you to experiment with different colors in your artworks.