Calligraphers made of write stuff

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 January, 2011, 12:00am

To the uninitiated, practising Chinese calligraphy may seem a good way to learn more about Chinese characters or improve your Chinese handwriting skills. However, after spending a short time learning the basic techniques, people start to recognise how relaxing and therapeutic the activity can be.

'The benefits are tangible and intangible. It helps people improve their Chinese handwriting and also eases their tensions in daily life. Practising Chinese calligraphy requires a tranquil mind and environment. In the long run, it helps nurture the qi in all of us and allows us to grow into better people. It is a life pursuit that keeps you healthy in body and mind,' says Foo Sai-heng, an instructor at Hong Kong Art School.

Foo, a local painter and calligrapher who has exhibited his works locally, on the mainland and internationally, has been teaching calligraphy at the art school for many years.

He says beginners start by learning how to use the four essential tools - ink brush, ink, paper and ink stone.

Controlling the brush and making use of its flexibility to produce the characters in a well-proportioned form and shape is the first step.

'First, people learn to produce lines in different widths and weights with the ink brush by taking the concentration of ink, the thickness and absorption of the paper into consideration. Frequent practice is needed to be able to control the brush as you wish - it needs to become like a part of your hand,' Foo explains. 'After mastering the basic writing skills and practising the different styles of calligraphy, students can then choose a poem or phrase extracted from a piece of literary work and use an appropriate style to express the spirit of the piece, as well as their own interpretation of it.'

The art school (www.hkas.edu.hk) runs a year-round short course suitable for both beginners and experienced students. The class size is small so that students at different levels can be easily accommodated.

Classes take place at the Hong Kong Arts Centre on Wednesday evenings and run for eight weeks. The next course begins on March 9. It costs HK$950 and classes are conducted in Cantonese and English. 'Chinese calligraphy is a highly concentrated mental activity that co-ordinates the mind, body and spirit to honestly and directly express oneself,' says Julia Deng, an instructor at ITS Tutorial School (www.tuition.com.hk).

'It is one of the four scholarly talents, along with Chinese chess, painting and musical skills, that validated a person as an educated man of quality and was highly regarded by nobility and the imperial courts of all the dynasties.'

ITS runs an eight-week course (two hours per week) for beginners. It costs HK$2,400 and includes tuition, reading materials and templates for practising at home. The course covers the cultural styles (regular script, seal character, official script, running script and cursive hand) of calligraphy and its history. There are compulsory assessments after each lesson and students are awarded graded certificates on completion.