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How do people write seal script?


realmayo
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I'm just curious about how people who are required to write out old forms of Chinese characters such seal script do so. For instance @OneEye has mentioned here that he has copied out all the seal forms in the Shuowen Jieze three times. Example here: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/50805-outlier-semantic-components-poster-review/?do=findComment&comment=389664

 

Is there a stroke order? Naturally they appear quite anti-brush!

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There are stroke orders, although I'm not sure I ever learned all of the rules—I was more concerned with just finishing the homework. You'll notice in the photo that symmetrical curved shapes that look like they could be done with a single stroke are often done in two, to make symmetry easier to achieve. Also, if you're using a brush there are certain techniques used to keep the stroke width even, but I used a pencil so I'm no help there.

 

There are books on the subject, of course, but my main purpose was to 1) get my homework finished and 2) learn to read 小篆, so again, not much help as far as books on writing I'm afraid. This looks like a decent intro though.

 

image.thumb.png.f65023976f065937bd5bd89f94c9dae5.png

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1 hour ago, OneEye said:

You'll notice in the photo that symmetrical curved shapes that look like they could be done with a single stroke are often done in two, to make symmetry easier to achieve.

 

Thanks for the reply! That's interesting - I was kind of assuming that even enclosing squares were one single stroke :mrgreen:.

 

I'd previously vaguely noticed that my version of Wenlin now has 篆體 for all characters, but I'd never thought to click on one of them to see what happens. Turns out Wenlin includes a 說文解字!

 

Quote

Wenlin includes Dr. Richard S. Cook’s《說文解字·注》Shuōwén Jiězì – Zhù Seal Script TrueType font.

This large hand-drawn outline font contains 11,246 glyphs in the 東漢 Eastern Hàn dynasty (121 A.D.) 篆体 Zhuàntǐ ‘Seal Script’ style used in the ancient dictionary 《說文解字》Shuōwén Jiězì, as revised and annotated by the famous 清 Qīng dynasty classicist 段玉裁 Duàn Yùcái (1815). Dr. Cook created this font in the mid-to-late 1990s, for use in his project to digitize various editions of the Shuōwén text.

 

Are there any obvious pitfalls to using this as a reference? I'd like to be able to recognise 200-500 of the commonest components, because (based on the handful I can now recognise) I get a childish kick out of deciphering them! (I'm aware that the 說文 itself makes lots of incorrect assumptions etc etc.)

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1 hour ago, realmayo said:

Are there any obvious pitfalls to using this as a reference? I'd like to be able to recognise 200-500 of the commonest components, because (based on the handful I can now recognise) I get a childish kick out of deciphering them! (I'm aware that the 說文 itself makes lots of incorrect assumptions etc etc.)

 

I believe Dr. Cook's font is quite accurate. Note that there are a few very minor differences between the seal script used in the Qing-era 段玉裁《說文解字注》 and that in the Tang-era 徐鉉《說文解字》, which are the two most widely-used versions, but there's nothing really wrong with using either of the two.

 

One of my classes (an undergrad intro to paleography) had us memorize just the 540 radicals of the Shuowen. For the students in that class, that was enough to be able to basically decipher most seal script characters, with the obvious exception of characters which have corrupted since seal script. I'd say that's probably enough for most purposes outside of paleographic research.

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22 minutes ago, OneEye said:

I'd say that's probably enough for most purposes outside of paleographic research.

 

Perfect - just what I was hoping to hear!

 

1 hour ago, Tomsima said:

Regardless of what the recording medium was, be it stone, bamboo, wood or paper, a brush would almost always be used to produce a draft first before carving. The brush then entered the mainstream with the widespread use of paper from the Han dynasty onwards.

 

Very interesting. And now I have a plastic pen with a brushlike nib made by a Japanese company in a Vietnam factory delivered to a UK address via a US company named after a South American rainforest.

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I meant to mention: the final exam was written entirely in seal script, and we had to first transcribe the questions in regular script, and then answer them. Pretty much everyone in the class was able to do so with little difficulty after having memorized the 540 radicals (and having some practice reading 小篆 inscriptions).

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2 hours ago, Tomsima said:

postgrad dissertation was translating the history of the brush

Wow.  This blog has people with expertise in everything.  I think it's fascinating that so many seemingly simple things can have a interesting history.  

 

27 minutes ago, OneEye said:

having memorized the 540 radicals

2nd Wow - 540 radicals!  I enjoy learning Chinese, but I could never imagine doing this.

 

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15 hours ago, realmayo said:

Is there a stroke order? Naturally they appear quite anti-brush!

 

There is a stroke order. Calligraphy books about specific seal script works have explanations. It's not anti-brush at all.

 

During the 清 Qing Dynasty, scholars were able to study the original seal script on steles. This also resulted in a lot of creativity from calligraphers and seal carvers. Some calligraphers from that time were 鄧石如 Deng Shiru, 吳昌碩 Wu Changshuo, and 趙之謙 Zhao Zhiqian (links to their calligraphy works).

 

I'm currently working on memorizing the 540 seal script radicals so I can improve my calligraphy and seal carving. It's taking some time, but I can tell I'm benefiting from it.

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  • 1 year later...

Every so often I come back to this thread to try to get my head around it.

It looks like in the past, characters were written (a) carved in stone (b) with a brush on some material (c) with a brush on stone to guide the carving.

I'd always understood that things like stroke direction, stroke order etc were a function of ease-of-writing with a brush.

So, back when people were sometimes carving in stone, and other times using a brush to write on some other material, would the shape of characters and their strokes vary depending on whether you were carving or brushing (ignoring for the moment brushing-as-a-guide-before-carving)?

 

 

 

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On 9/21/2021 at 4:51 PM, realmayo said:

So, back when people were sometimes carving in stone, and other times using a brush to write on some other material, would the shape of characters and their strokes vary depending on whether you were carving or brushing (ignoring for the moment brushing-as-a-guide-before-carving)?

 

Very much so! Here's an excerpt from an answer I wrote on Quora recently (answering a different question, but it's mostly still relevant):

 

---------------

Bronze and oracle bone script coexisted, for one. We have a ton of examples of Shang bronze script. Shang bronze script is often more pictographic than oracle bone script, because it’s easier to include a lot of detail when you’re casting characters in bronze versus scratching them onto tortoise plastrons or ox scapula.

何, for example, depicted a person carrying a weapon (a 戈 or dagger-axe):

 

image.png.17a1558132bb64a21d17e0b81af8b40b.png


The oracle bone version is less vivid, though the main elements are all still there:

 

image.png.f4ab9f44cd7122e8efb9420c3c33fe0f.png


Notice what a huge difference the medium makes.

 

Similarly, brush writing coexisted with, and actually pre-dated, small seal script. The earliest extant examples of brush writing that we have are from a collection called 侯馬盟書 The Covenant Inscriptions of Houma, from the late Spring and Autumn and early Warring States periods, pre-dating small seal script by quite a bit. But scholars believe brush writing existed even as early as the Shang period. We just don’t have any examples.

 

Here’s a comparison of a few different media from the same time period. This is 訶(歌) from the Warring States period, on bronze (left), jade (center), and brush on bamboo (right):

 

image.png.fc04589b4f5024cc597d5527a09e1427.png


You can see the connections between the three forms, but they’re visually quite different, right?

 

Now that I’ve shown how much a change in medium can affect a character visually, let’s compare small seal script (left) with the brush writing of the Qin period (right), when small seal script was standardized (i.e., these forms are contemporary):

 

image.png.cf03c0f9285da918d826f2e27d3a163f.png


And now the same character in Han clerical script:

 

image.png.bf2dab2d392c9b16b54d7d4ea42662c3.png


As before, you can see the connections between all three forms of 親 here, but the two brush forms bear much more similarity to each other, despite the significant time gap, than either of them does to seal script.

---------------

 

Here are some more examples of Qin brush writing compared to small seal script (from 張守中《睡虎地秦簡文字編》):

image.thumb.png.0c8e39bba194f6ba34455a3f508abcd9.png

 

Again, you can see the connection pretty clearly, but there are quite a few differences.

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Fascinating. So, there would be something anachronistic about someone today trying to write small seal script characters with a brush if they're attempting to produce something that looks like the carved characters? Because I see lots of calligraphy written to mimic the 小篆 look, but it appears that contemporary brush users would write those characters differently.

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