If you're curious about the techniques involved in writing Chinese calligraphy, you've probably wondered the process involved in learning the art. While there is no substitute for learning from a master (a shu fa shi) there are some basic steps important in establishing yourself in the basics of calligraphy.
We'll start by preparing the brush. Chinese calligraphy brushes are made from animal hair, in different textures and stiffness according to the artist's skill level and type of inks and papers. A common brush for calligraphers might be made from sheep hair (a "woolen brush") or weasel hair. Some luxury brushes, made with extremely high-grade materials, can be made from bear hair or wolf hair.
Prepare the brush by softening it in water. This only takes a few minutes. Make sure that the bristles are soft and flexible.
Now, prepare the ink. There are two ways of doing this: and this depends upon your skill level and what materials you have on hand. If you're a beginner, it's okay to start practicing by using pre-bottled ink. It's already mixed to the appropriate consistency. However, if you are an advanced artist or if you want to pursue the art in the traditional methods, an inkstick and an inkstone is a necessity.
Inkstones have hard, smooth surfaces that don't damage the bristles of your brush. Place a little water in the inkstone's reservoir. Take an inkstick, which is a blend of charcoal pigments bound together with special oils, and rub it against the stone, pulling up some of the water a bit at a time until you have the perfect consistency. Chinese calligraphers grind in a flat, circular motion with the end of the inkstick. You want just the right mixture: too thin, and your ink will not be dark and vibrant. Too thick, and your brush will not flow properly.
Experienced calligraphers only grind the amount of ink they need for the day, and you shouldn't let ink dry on your stone. Clean carefully with water to make sure it is clean after use.
Now, for the actual technique of writing Chinese calligraphy!
As stated before, the best way to learn is to be taught by someone who has already mastered the art. But if you must learn by yourself, be sure to start with the essentials.
Hold the brush straight, as an extension of your arm. It's not like holding a pen in Western writing: it's wrapped gently in between your first three fingers, with your thumb holding it straight against them. In Chinese calligraphy your brush is considered an extension of your arm, not your fingers.
Your brush should be resting gently with your first and third fingers on either side of the shaft. Holding the brush higher on the shaft will give softer strokes. Holding the brush lower, close to the bristles, will give you strong strokes.
When you begin to write, remember to hold it vertically: not angled as in Western drawing. Hold the paper with your other hand. When making a stroke, it's recommended to begin with a slight hook backwards, to gain momentum before making your stroke. And remember: always keep your elbow above the table, so your arm is free to move.
The road to becoming a calligrapher is not easy, or short: it can take years of practice and experience before reaching a level of expertise in the craft. But we must all begin somewhere!