Saturday, December 3, 2011

Getting Started With Japanese Calligraphy

"The Four Treasures" (文房四宝 bunbou-shihou) is a nickname for the tools of traditional Japanese calligraphy: the brush, the inkstone, ink and paper. I find doing calligraphy very soothing and relaxing, because it's simple and straightforward and allows me to focus wholly on the writing in front of me and leave behind whatever stress or worries I've got at the moment.

If you've ever wanted to try this fun and challenging art for yourself, called shodou 書道 in Japanese, check out this video I found for a simple, short introduction.

She's simplified her set-up for beginners, which is nice, and has skipped the traditional paper in favor of thicker, more forgiving printer paper. If you don't have any tools at all, you can still try shodou out. Here's what you need and what you can substitute until you can get ahold of the real deals, if you decide to pursue shodou further. :)

1. Calligraphy brush - Any painting brush with a pointed tip
2. Japanese calligraphy paper - Printer paper or newspaper.
3. Sumi ink - India ink, black watercolor paint mixed with just enough water to become liquid. (Normally you grind an inkstick onto an inkstone to make your ink, but that's a skill in itself so many students use pre-bottled ink for practice.)

For practice, here are a few characters animated to show you how to write them:

Easy: Heart - Kokoro (koh-koh-roh)

Medium: Beauty - Bi (bee)

Hard: Love - Ai (eye)

Beyond the tools needed, the biggest tip I would give is to be sure you're following the correct stroke order when you write each character. Kanji, the Chinese characters imported into the Japanese language, have a correct way they are written.

If you follow the correct stroke order, your character will look much better than trying to wing it on your own. If you're learning the Japanese language, calligraphy can be a great way to reinforce your handwriting skills in general by practicing stroke order every time you write a character.

Most kanji dictionaries will tell you stroke order, and several sites online can help as well. The one I used above is Yamasa Online Kanji Dictionary, a site that gives animated stroke order examples for basic kanji.

Jim Breen's "Kanji Lookup" is more thorough. Choose from the dropdown menu how you want to find the kanji, enter your info, then click on the calligraphy brush symbol on the far right of the definition to get an animation that shows where to begin in red.

Feel free to ask if you have any questions, and I'll help if I can. Good luck! :)

No comments: