June 19-24. Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, Tassajara, Carmel Valley, California. “Brush Mind.”
Welcome to the wondrous world of brush calligraphy! This three-thousand-year-old art form, originated in China, has been commonly practiced in most parts of East Asia, and appreciated throughout the world. This book offers you its history, techniques, aesthetics, and philosophy, with an in-depth practical guide to understanding and drawing ideographs. You may look at the images of ideographs selected from great classical masterpieces and see how these characters are drawn and pronounced, and what they signify. You may also take a brush and try to recreate characters from these examples.
Studying East Asian calligraphy is a cross-cultural experience for those from other parts of the world, as the formation of characters is unique, and the creative process in calligraphy is quite different from that employed in any other form of art. In following the predetermined stroke orders and recreating master works, you begin to interpret, and then create, your own style and work. This gentle progression of creativity allows you to gradually expand your artistic process.
Drawing lines with a brush is a joyous visual and tactile experience. You can enjoy drawing lines on any skill level and continue to learn from calligraphers from the past. Repetitious brush movements improve your relaxation and focus, which, in turn, nurture your inner path.
At first, all East Asian calligraphic works may look similar to you, and you may have difficulty understanding why some of them have been regarded as outstanding pieces while others are not. You will notice little by little, however, the nuances of the lines, spacing, and composition of celebrated pieces. As a way to demonstrate how calligraphic study is done, I show you my own study of ancient samples on a scale suitable for your own drawing, which are presented on right-hand side pages in the part “Master Samples and Study.”
The lines you draw may initially look unskilled or clumsy, but soon they will gain elegance and fluency. Each moment of practice is a moment of learning. Your eyes will see more acutely and your hand will draw more elegantly. The progress, however, may not be as immediate as you desire. That will allow you all the more opportunity to improve your brushwork and enjoy your experience endlessly! Calligraphy is not a goal-oriented task, but rather a path for deepening your way of life.
I am delighted to bring you into the heart of this magnificent art form. You may ask me, “How long have you been studying calligraphy?” I answer, “Seventeen…hundred years.” We are in the lineage of this art form that has continued well over a millennium since its classical era.
What you see in this book is what I have learned to be an ideal approach to East Asian calligraphy. That is, to study ancient Chinese masterpieces from the earliest to the most accomplished stage of your learning. Where the models are outstanding, their handwritten reproductions can be adequate and graceful. I hope you will find this approach helpful in your appreciation and practice of calligraphy.
Of course, knowing an East Asian language may be of use in learning calligraphy. But you can also view or learn calligraphy as an art form without it. Increasingly you will get used to its writing system.
Studying calligraphy is one way to realize how much we have to learn from the wisdom, aesthetics, and depth of our ancestors. In this time of rapid technological advancement, in taking up the brush, we become humble and feel privileged to be part of an ancient, creative civilization.
from Heart of the Brush, Shambhala Publications, 2016.