Written by Paul, January 24, 2022

“Oh to be a beginner! Calligraphy the next big challenge!”

Those of you who have read my blogs, articles and books are no doubt aware of my fascination for all things Oriental and their brushwork in particular. I had always been aware that both Chinese and Japanese calligraphy was at the heart of their painting and that the practice of brush writing had a long and illustrious history. In developing my own work I was aware that certain brushstrokes were peculiar to calligraphic style. I began research into the various forms of writing which had developed over the centuries and formed a rich source of fascinating styles. During my recent trip to Japan my eyes were opened to not only the variations in calligraphic forms but also the brushes, inks and papers that form the backbone of the practice. I was itching to have a go there and then. I got my friends who live there to help me purchase the necessary tools: a book on basics, plus Google and I set to work. It soon became apparent that for all my experience in brush painting, when it came to calligraphy, I was an incompetent novice! A hell of a shock and quite chastening! Having been a teacher for some years I was now suddenly put into the seat of my students and became fully appreciative of their suffering. I found it extraordinary that whilst the eye and the mind could fully understand, the hand just simply wouldn’t cooperate! Needless to say it dawned on me that the only thing to do was practice, practice, practice. In other words take my own medicine! For example, the basic vertical and horizontal stroke, though seemingly simple, proved to be most irritatingly difficult.One had to assume correct posture either sitting or standing. One had to hold the brush in a very specific way quite contrary to how I normally hold my brush.One needed to even breathe correctly. One had to hold one’s arm in a manner to enable the flow of mind to brush tip, but also had to concentrate on subtly alternating the pressure on the brush to accurately produce the prescribed marks. One had to stay cool and above all not lose one’s temper at once in confidence! Why? You might ask should “One” put oneself to all this bother. A good question. Firstly I am aware of advancing age and the need to keep the brain cells exercised. Secondly, it’s all very well resting on once laurels confident in the fact that I can paint and produce satisfactory brushstrokes in my sleep. However, this complacency can produce mental lethargy, sterility and a tediousness in their execution.By studying an “alongside” tradition with a rich history of development can and does stimulate to an extraordinary degree.

I came across a Chinese calligraphy tutor on my Facebook page and decided I needed some expert help and signed up for some zoom courses. This is how I found out how really bad I was and all the mistakes I was making that I wasn’t even conscious of. However, I am learning bit by bit.

I probably won’t make a great or even good calligrapher, but at least I will have come “along side” and the knowledge and stimulus I get from it will sustain and stimulate me well into serious old age!