The famous words of calligraphy sage Wang Xizhi (王羲之, 303–361) from the Jin dynasty (晉朝, 265 – 420) go: “use a hard brush on soft paper, and a soft brush on hard paper.” This golden rule is followed today, however one needs to remember than only the artist really knows what he wants. Learning how…

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The most suitable paper for calligraphy and sumi-e (墨絵, ink painting) is Xuan paper (宣紙), taking its name from a district of Xuancheng city (宣城), namely Xuan Zhou (宣州, lit. Shuan district), that existed already during the Tang dynasty period (唐朝, 618 – 907), where Xuan paper was originally manufactured. The main raw materials depending…

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Paper (紙, kami), alongside the compass, gunpowder and printing press, is one of the four great discoveries of China. Many sources state that paper first appeared in 105 C.E as an invention of a Chinese official Cai Lun (蔡倫, 50 C.E. – 121). This is however incorrect, as numerous archaeological sources prove that paper existed…

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An ink stick is made of natural ingredients, such as soot (lampblack of pine, sesame oil, colza oil, etc), animal glue and perfumes (acting mainly as preservatives). For this reason special handling needs to be applied in order to prolong its life span and sustain its quality. First of all, ink should be kept in…

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Before buying ink we need to ask ourselves the question of what purpose it will serve, or what effect we want to achieve. For example, red ink (朱墨, shuboku), is used mainly by teachers to mark and correct works of their students, or on stones before carving. Silver (銀墨, ginboku) or gold (金墨, kinboku) can…

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Today ink comes in two major types: hardened (固形墨, kokeiboku) and liquid (墨汁, bokujuu). The latter one is mainly a domain of Japan, and it is chemical based. Washable ink was even developed for children practicing shuuji (習字, lit. “studying characters”) at school. It is said that the best quality ink is hardened, made of…

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Pottery markings found on Yangshao (仰韶) earthenware excavated near Banpo village (半坡) or other sites, prove that first “ink” existed in the form of a colour pigment at least 7000 years ago (mainly charcoal based). It was crushed on the primitive “inkstone” being nothing other than a mortar, composed of a grinding surface and a…

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There are two ingredients that we will apply on our suzuri (硯, inkstone) in order to prepare the ink. One is water and the other is ink. Water should be fresh, not boiled, although bottled mineral water is also recommended. Fresh water from a tap is the most convenient, obviously. Ink should be of the…

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The most important feature of any inkstone is its grinding surface quality. It needs to be suitable for preparing uniformly thick ink. The finer the ink quality the more pleasant the writing will be. However, this is not the only factor that will help us to decide. First of all, we choose the inkstone by…

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Inkstones are much more than just practical items for ink grinding. There are two main types; one for everyday use and another for decorative or collecting purposes. In ancient China beautifully carved and inscribed inkstones made by famous artists were often presented as tribute or gift from one ruler to another. Some historical inkstones can…

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