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Brush-Calligraphy (neat and legible style) Thread!


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[Edit 10Jul12: I'm a beginner. I tried to share my observations in this thread but I changed my mind a lot as I went.]

Threads about "handwriting" tend toward the pen, etc.

A thread about "calligraphy" might tend toward art at the expense of legibility.

I would like this thread to be about writing - with the hand, using a brush, with legibility as a requirement, but also including aesthetics (via examples of favorite models, for example).

Is anyone interested? I know Hofmann likes this subject. ;-)

To me, the ultimate in legibility, neatness, balance, etc., is the style in my standard STKaiti font. (Is it *only* because I'm so used to it?) As one possible writing/brush-calligraphic Ideal, I thought it would be neat to be able to paint-write like that, and as I began taking lessons in brush-calligraphy I had this in mind. Interestingly, neither my study materials nor my teacher are so inclined. And also, naturally, once I've learned to paint-write one of the little angles or flourishes required, I tend to like it! So, my writing/brush-calligraphy will not be Platonic-Kaiti after all. Kaiti is also unforgiving; very small errors are obvious. I mention this again below.

As brush-calligraphy gets fancier, it often includes features I don't appreciate, with (apparently purposeless) variations in line thickness, e.g. It often looks as though the brush had been overloaded with ink, or as though the brush-calligrapher began with a little mistake, but continued with a bolder line to "cover" it. As a beginner, it looks like *gratuitous* deviation from uniformity, or *gratuitous* flourish.

So, if unstylized Kaiti does not work as an ideal, I would fall back on this: a near-Kaiti with purposeful flourish. What is its purpose? The value-added to Kaiti, by adding personal flourish, is to expand the, let's say, "radius of credible variability"; small "mistakes" are safely within the "noise" of one's added style. Yes, that sounds good. I can prioritize legibility and still take advantage of this "radius of credible variability" idea, in the following way. I can think of three ways I could, arguably, make the unstylized Kaiti more legible. One is to add a little boldness generally. Another is to increase existing variations in boldness. Another is to accentuate, slightly, the little features at the beginning and ending of strokes. All of these could be considered "management of added boldness". (I think being able to say this so simply is helpful.) There are many models in this style. I might add a sample to a later post. Anyone else?

I'd like to say something about balance. As brush-calligraphy gets fancier, some of the characters lend themselves more to heavy stylization, and others less. To me (as I said, just a beginner), in samples of the fancier styles, the simplest characters stand out as though stylistically inconsistent. Does anyone else think this? (I'd like to say as an aside that a wedge-y style works better to keep e.g. 人 from looking left out.) I don't like that. No matter how famous the model, I don't think I will ever like it. So, I don't anticipate wanting to go so far that 一 and 人 look this way.

None of this is new. I'm just sharing what I think about it. I might post some examples later.

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I've been absent a bit. Hi again.

Thank you for your interest in this area. Here are my thoughts and suggestions.

So, you want 楷書, written using a brush. STKaiti is a 楷書 font, the style of which is probably derived from 館閣體, which was the basis for what is now called "Traditional Chinese" and the 康熙 dictionary. However, because it is a modern typeface it does what many modern typefaces tend to do, i.e. follow a certain standard regarding character formation, which sometimes causes the characters to be written incorrectly according to 楷書 rules. For example, in STKaiti, both sides of 艹 are merged.

So, good 楷書 is unforgiving. This is because 楷書, being 楷 (regular), by definition, is regular. However, while your aim should be to write regularly, it is not a requirement. Only that you write correctly. For example, if you think STKaiti is pretty regular (which it is, being computer generated), the way it writes 花 (having 艹 in it) will still be wrong.

What is it that you call flourishes? There are none in correctly written 楷書. Anything extra done on purpose does not form pure writing (whose purpose if communication). There are exceptions, such as an extra dot in 民, or an extra horizontal stroke in 爽, but the rule is that nothing unnecessary is ever added.

So, if you acknowledge that being completely regular is not a requirement (nor is it humanly possible), you allow some, in your words, "radius of credible variability." I say whatever, as long as you didn't do it on purpose, and also as long as it doesn't become 行書. You speak of adding boldness to certain lines. Is this a natural way for you to write, or is it an intentional modification of your natural writing?

Of course, whether it's intentional or not, on paper almost nobody can tell, but if you like high-contrast 楷書, you can make it your own by studying models that exhibit these characteristics. I'm thinking 顏真卿. I recommend his 多寶塔碑.

I prefer 歐陽詢. I've been studying his 九成宮醴泉銘.

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Thank you for coming Hofmann. I started the thread with you in mind. :-)

"However, while your aim should be to write regularly, it is not a requirement. Only that you write correctly."

Yes of course, I'm *even* learning traditional characters now. :-) What authority do you use? (And concerning correct fonts, do you have a favorite?)

"What is it that you call flourishes?"

Any accentuation of a brush-feature.

"You speak of adding boldness to certain lines. Is this a natural way for you to write, or is it an intentional modification of your natural writing?"

I have no natural way to write with a brush or in hanzi, as I am just beginning.

"you can make it your own by studying models that exhibit these characteristics"

I'll be looking. I know I've seen some in the past (before I began studying this).

Later, I might post some models, and examples of my own work. Maybe others will too.

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There is no widely available font that writes everything correctly. One that gets many things right is

欧体楷書 by Morisawa, but even then, this is a modern typeface, so it has to follow the Japanese Shinjitai standard.

The most reliable authorities regarding 楷書 are 歐陽詢, 顏真卿, and 柳公權. Their writing is consistently correct and also technically excellent and in good taste. However, you could look at “lesser" 楷書 examples like 虞世南, 褚遂良, 裴休, 趙孟頫, or even 王羲之 (from 晉, when 楷書 was not fully mature) and can still at least get some correctly written characters.

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Thank you Hofmann. Your references lead to a world of resources.

Here is a great video explaining and demonstrating a style (one of your three "most reliable") with a lot of of little angles. Could be tedious.

My own teacher has a rounded style. It seems very practical and forgiving; he makes fewer small turns with the brush than most. It's bold, too.

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Different styles of correct regular script could be characterized this way:

1. Boldness (thickness of lines generally)

Thicker is easier, but characters with many strokes must be made with thinner strokes anyway. This could look like inconsistency as I opined in #1. But there's another principle of consistency possible, that each character should have the same presence (or amount of ink laid down), even if than requires that they be given unequal thickness. I can see that, but I still don't think I like it.

2. Resolution (small details vs. rounding)

Rounding is easer! It's more practical! It may be less elegant, but it lends an easygoing feel. (What do I mean? I'm comparing it to the style in the video I posted in #5, which is very nice but a little intense.)

3. Flair (the degree of variation in boldness within strokes)

More flair might be a little easier, as unwanted variation has more "cover". I think flair is beautiful but not everyone agrees; my teacher's style has low flair!

4. Slant (not too much please)

Distinguishing characteristics of different styles of correct regular script: Boldness, Resolution, Flair, Slant.

So, as I begin, the style I think I like is the antithesis of my teacher's own style! I hope he isn't offended! On the other hand, his easier (it seems to me) thick and rounded style, executed with consistency, would be much better than an attempt at elegance that's riddled with flaws. I do agree with that.

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Interesting observations.

I have to say that the video in post #5 is a bad example. He's writing too big for a brush of that diameter, and the brush is too long for 楷書 anyway, flopping around like a mop, and his technique is so troublesome and clumsy that one can get tired just watching him. For a better example see this video from 11:40, where 田蘊章 compares 歐陽詢, 顏真卿, 柳公權, and 趙孟頫. It doesn't look very much like any of them, but his technique is good, and one can see that it is similar regardless of whose 楷書 you write.

So, the style you like is not thick and not rounded. I wonder whom your teacher uses as models. Asking him might lead you to some scandalous discoveries that could lead you to leave him.

I can somewhat echo your observations, in that regularity is difficult. As I said before, I practice 歐陽詢, whose handwriting is the most regular of all. For this reason, he is considered difficult to study, as he tends to use a more "precipitous" style that has very tight tolerances, such that flaws in technique easily influence the outcome of the characters. Others who study 歐陽詢 can look at this and tell every place where I made a technical derp. One the other hand, I find his style very easy to understand, such that everything he does is out there in the open. It is what it looks like. Compare this with 柳公權. His handwriting is less regular, such that if I studied him, my current technique would create less noticeable inconsistencies. However, his strokes are less straightforward, and his style is more difficult to mentally grasp, such that it is more difficult to figure out his stylistic template.

If you haven't already, look for the people I have listed. I would like your comments on 歐陽詢, 顏真卿, and 柳公權. Treat it like an exercise.

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Is it an issue that these models aren't ink-on-paper but are a rubbing over a stone engraving?

I might like to follow an old master, but I feel no duty to trust any exact details to the *engraver*, or to reproduce any engraving features.

歐陽詢 九成宫醴泉铭:

I like the example you posted. I also like "姚孟起's 1883 copy of 九成宮醴泉銘" downloaded from here. (A little of it can be viewed in the middle of this page.)

I also like the things you say you like about him, that his strokes are simpler and consistent.

I don't like that some of his characters are thin and stretched vertically (moreso than I'm accustomed to seeing).

柳公權 玄秘塔碑:

Why am I thinking about engraving-features?

There are a lot of straight lines and sharp, squared-off corners in this model.

顏真卿 多宝塔碑:

The book my teacher chose for me for traceover practice is based on this.

I like his characters' square and consistent proportions.

I like that he consistently uses more of the available space and lays down more ink.

I don't like that his strokes are visibly more complicated to make; I'd rather feel, myself, greater ease when I'm writing, and would rather my final product look more at ease.

As 姚孟起 provided a copy of 歐陽詢, do you have a favorite ink-on-paper copy of 顏真卿 (or a provider of videos)?

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It is an issue that these are stone rubbings, mainly that the stones can be very worn, such that some details were lost over time. It is not so much of an issue that properties of brush writing were lost in the transfer from paper to stone. It is enough to know what tends to happen when a stone gets worn, i.e. corners get rounded, small features get swallowed by big features, and strokes get thicker. Also, some BS happens sometimes. For example, if you look at 歐陽詢's 九成宮醴泉銘, page 27, the 8th character 乾, you'll see that there is what looks like an extra vertical stroke. That started out as a crack, which got enlarged, perhaps helped by trolls/vandals. This vertical crack has led many people to write this character incorrectly.

Because of this, renditions on paper (or renditions on paper transferred to newer stones) made by informed scholars are valuable, as their writing can show the results of their research on what the original features of the model might have been. 姚孟起's copy is one of such resources, and IMO the best for 九成宮醴泉銘.

I don't know much about 顏真卿. A quick search doesn't find anyone good. However, the state of 多寶塔碑 looks OK. You'd be fine just looking at that.

Is this the book you're using? From my experience, you're probably better off taking a glance at it to get ideas and then just using 多寶塔碑. This is because books like that tend to mislead people. I've said elsewhere that this is a difficult field to study, but not because practicing your technique is difficult, or that it has to take a long time, but because there is so much BS floating around about it.

For example, you said that 顏真卿's strokes seem more complicated to write. In the image you posted in that thread, the diagram shows the beginning of the 撇挑 stroke starting with an upward motion, going in a loop. This represents 藏鋒, which a loop in a diagram poorly represents, not to mention almost nobody does it correctly. 顏真卿 may have done this for some strokes, but do you think he did that at the beginning of every major stroke? If you look at 多寶塔碑, can you reproduce the strokes using simpler methods? As a student of 書法, you should effectively be a linguist. When making hypotheses about what happened to produce certain strokes, one always prefers parsimony. I'm going to say that the majority of strokes start 露鋒. When you do 藏鋒, it's only a matter of covering the point where the brush's tip hits the paper with the body of the stroke as the brush moves down onto the paper to start the stroke. An example can be seen here at the third stroke of 之.

That diagram also shows a turn at the corner without lifting the brush. All such corners in 唐楷 were simply the end of one stroke and the beginning of another. The examples of 撇點 even show this to be the case, different from the diagram at the top. If you try to write these corners without lifting your brush, you're just going to make it more awkward for you.

I also hope you practice 多寶塔碑 in the right size. Note that the characters in 多寶塔碑 are about 4.3cm square. Characters of different sizes have different writing techniques.

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"Is this the book you're using?"

Yes. I understand your comments. Thank you.

I spent a lot of time on the three names you gave me.

I found by far the most resources in support of 歐陽詢. I like the idea of studying him directly instead of through 顏真卿 or 柳公權 who had already studied him and modified him, as I can modify him myself, with or without intending to. :-) Youtube, beginning at 001Asoer (I think that's you) and leading to 田雪松 and 田蘊章, is the best place to start that I'm aware of.

You, 田蘊章 and my teacher all recommend the mixed hair brush. I could see from those videos that my brushes should hold a point better and be more springy. I ordered some and I'll certainly review them here.

I like the variety in Wei Bei 魏碑 (the less-standardized precursor to kaishu).

I like what is called (negatively) "guǎngétǐ 館閣體" (google image will give examples). I like it because it is simplified.

I also like this: 赵孟頫 《仇锷墓志铭》(see the 16th menu item down on the left). I'd like to understand why it looks so good, and not like a child with a magic marker. I like the proportions and the weight.

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Nobody studies 歐陽詢 though anybody but 歐陽詢. 顏真卿 studied 褚遂良 and 張旭, and adopted properties of writing from other sources such as 虞世南 and 歐陽詢, but one can't say how much of anybody he incorporated into his writing. He could have just glanced at 歐陽詢 for all we know. Same with 柳公權, except he studied 王羲之, 歐陽詢, and 顏真卿. Furthermore, even if one could study 歐陽詢 though somebody else, it's not like there's anything useful about his writing that can be passed on to others. Every property of his writing has been done before (e.g. by 王羲之, 張旭, and the guy who wrote 蘇孝慈墓志銘), except that he put the combination together better than everyone else.

For 歐陽詢, the best resources are his writing, but besides those, 北方網's series 每日一題每日一字 is good. Because 北方網 can be slow at times, you can probably find these reuploaded elsewhere. The 每日一題 portion can be applied to anybody. The 每日一字 portion leans toward 歐陽詢. But do you really want to study him? There is relatively more material about him, but if you like someone else better, then you should go for that. I think currently there is a shortage of people studying 柳公權.

魏碑 (also called 北碑) is worth studying, but I recommend doing so after you have a good grasp of 唐楷, i.e. after being able to write almost anything correctly in 楷書, because 北碑 has a lot of wrong characters, both used wrong and written wrong. Furthermore, they were written by common people, so their technique is not so refined, and the engravers were not specialists, poorly reproducing the writing. There are some good examples though, like 張黑女墓誌.

I wouldn't call 館閣體 simplified (and 館閣體 is the only common name for it). What do you find simplified about it? It's just a regular, anonymous 小楷. Perhaps because it is 小楷, the strokes are more round and there is more 露鋒, and you find this simpler to write. You could practice this, but why? There are so many IMO better examples of 小楷.

仇鍔墓誌銘 is 行楷. I find it looks good because the characters are written correctly (which is getting rare recently; get a random modern handwriting sample and I can probably pick out a wrong character), and because he's 趙孟頫, who studied 王羲之 extensively. If you gave him a marker, he'd still be able to get oohs and ahhs from people.

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I didn't know the word 館閣體 when you used it in post #2, referring to STKaiti.

"What do you find simplified about (館閣體)?

See the attachment. 歐陽詢 (via 姚孟起's copy) is on the left, STKaiti is on the right. The 館閣體 is less finely crafted. That's what I meant by simpler (to write).

"Perhaps because it is 小楷, the strokes are more round..."

小楷, I see. Yes, thank you.

"仇鍔墓誌銘 is 行楷"

OK, but I'll probably mention him again in the future. This is the "mystery of the magic marker style". As I said, I'll be pondering how it can look so good with so little fine detail.

"But do you really want to study him?"

1) 歐陽詢 (compared to 顏真卿 and 柳公權),

2) 館閣體/小楷, and

3) 趙孟頫 仇鍔墓誌銘 (for example)

...all have in common a relative absence of unnecessary detail. Simplicity (in the right hands) can have interesting aesthetic effects that I've admired in other fields. So, yes, of the three you asked me about in post #7, I like 歐陽詢 the most.


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I said STKaiti is derived from 館閣體. Although the style of STKaiti (stroke shape, distribution) can be included in the 館閣體 style, it is not 館閣體 because of the abundance of wrong characters.

To elaborate on 仇鍔墓誌銘, it's basically 楷書 with some less tidy strokes and more connectedness. It is obvious that 趙孟頫 has a strong 楷書 foundation (of the 王羲之 flavor). An average kid with a marker doesn't know the rules of 楷書, and can't apply them correctly in 行楷.

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I was looking for a brush whose tip would spring back to a point better, and that could cut sharp angles better, as I could see in the videos mentioned above.

Of the five mixed-hair brushes we tried, we liked this one the most. (I have no connection to that store.)

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I set up a practice table in my home.

I bought 田雪松's book from amazon.cn (古今名句楷法精解:田英章田雪松系列书法字帖精选 [平装] ISBN: 9787807491385). His book and videos should be included in my language studies.

Thanks to you I have this collection of names: 001Asoer, 歐陽詢, 姚孟起临九成宫, 田英章, 田雪松, 田蘊章. That's a lot!

I see that the Spring couplets you posted are an exact-as-humanly-possible copy of 歐陽詢, while the 歐陽詢-oriented 田英章, 田雪松 and 田蘊章 are often not. (Edit: I don't mean that negatively.) I will be thinking about this.

Later in the thread I'll post some samples of my writing.

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Well, although I don't think it's "exact-as-humanly-possible" I have an explanation for the difference between me and the 田 family. Basically it comes down to experience and philosophy.

  • They have all practiced for at least 20 years, of many styles besides 歐陽詢 and 楷書. They might have incorporated these other styles in their writing.
    • I have 3-ish years on and off, only studying 歐陽詢, so I only really know 楷書.

    [*]They are willing to (and are at a stage where they feel confident to) depart from 歐陽詢's style, sometimes because they disagree with him or because they find certain features "outdated" or too difficult.

    • I don't feel qualified to depart from 歐陽詢 yet, and I like every aspect of his writing, and I don't find anything outdated or too difficult.

Some of these "outdated" or difficult features include

  • In 唐楷, most corners are the end of one stroke and the beginning of another. To write a corner, one lifts ones brush up and begins another stroke. The 田 family finds this outdated and prefers to keep their brush on the paper, producing a less defined corner and, to them, saving time. I follow the 唐 way, and I find it it actually less troublesome to just lift ones brush up, and it looks better.
  • Some of 歐陽詢‘s straight strokes are easy to mess up, mostly horizontal strokes. The 田 family curves some of them as a safer alternative. I find it excessive sometimes. Especially 田英章, who sometimes gets sloppy/exaggerated with the ends of strokes, producing good but rather squishy-looking writing compared to 歐陽詢, whose strokes look solid as steel in comparison.
  • The body of major strokes in the 田 family's writing has more variation in width. This makes things a bit easier, as you have described earlier.
  • I don't know how to characterize this but sometimes they just write more like laypeople. An example is 以, where 歐陽詢 clearly separates the two parts. 田蘊章 finds this outdated and writes them, in my opinion, writes them too close. He says modern tastes are like this, but I am a modern person, and my tastes side with 歐陽詢.

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"3-ish years on and off". Really? Did you study characters from childhood? Did you write with a pen before?

I tend to agree with everything you say, but I'd like to share my difference on two things.

1) With regard to practicing at the original size, I don't know what size brush he used (nor many other variables). I'm content to practice at whatever brush/grid size seems to work.

2) With regard to departing from a model too soon, I accept this old principle. Most principled would be to look at the rubbing only, but I have these nice videos and books that would influence me. It's a purist versus pragmatist decision I haven't settled yet. I think... *if* I am to really follow someone "religiously" for some years... it should be one of the old masters with intrinsic (cultural/historical) weight. But... I might not have twenty more productive years. I will probably compromise on this point.

Finally, I've spent some time on this preparatory phase, collecting brushes and paper and looking at models. You've helped me a lot. Thank you.

Now, I must practice basic strokes and show my teacher that I'm ready to move on past the traceover stage. Later, he won't mind letting me choose a model myself.

[Edited to stay closer to the topic.]

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The ink I've been using is 一得阁墨汁 liquid.

It's OK as far as I know but it smells bad, which concerns me.

Maybe I'll have to grind some from a stick and check the smell; water and pine soot I'm not afraid of.

There probably exists a good non-toxic ink, maybe a do-it-yourself too.

I tried various papers, but at this time I choose the cheapest, the standard yellowish pressed bamboo with grids. It's smooth on one side (easier for me than the slightly textured xuan papers I tried) and doesn't spread. I can see through it easily and it doesn't soak through too badly. I'll be doing a lot of trace-over practice.

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Really? Did you study characters from childhood? Did you write with a pen before?

I could write some characters very badly since childhood, but was never really literate until late in high school. I had some 柳公權 models that I examined but didn't really get anything out of it. It wasn't until a few summers ago that I started caring about my handwriting.

I have some 一得閣 ink. I've been using 曹素功 pine soot ink sticks, which definitely smells better. I haven't done any meaningful comparisons. 曹素功 and 胡開文 have good reputations. If you're saying maybe, you probably shouldn't DIY. Not economically sound.

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