Hello everyone, this is Clement here, and I am very honored to be invited as a guest writer for OFP! I am here to start a series of posts on Chinese Pen Calligraphy. It is one of the interesting ways to use a fountain pen, yet has not been widely explored, at least in the English-speaking world.
Ever since I started posting on the Singapore Fountain Pens Lovers Facebook group back in 2014, many questions came to me on what pen/nib I used to obtain the effects that were shown in the writings. To be honest, I never really had a clear idea, and was experimenting with many different things (flex nibs, fude nibs, naginata nibs, ……) but I did not really have a clear idea also. Currently, after 3 to 4 years of testing and experimentation, I might have a better idea to justify a formal post on this matter. However, do note that this is what is written for now only. Maybe 3 to 4 years later, I might have a very different view again and come back to refute all these.
What Makes Chinese Writing Look Good?
Before we continue further, please look at these two characters. Which one looks better and why?
The “sharp edges” on the character on the right give it much more definition and “life”, even though structurally they look very similar.
The Aesthetic Sense of Chinese Writing is Still Rooted in Traditional Calligraphy
To explain this issue, we should go back into the world of traditional brush calligraphy to explore its aesthetic sense because ultimately, what we are talking about is beauty. How is beauty defined? How do you determine whether something looks good or not?
The old theory that has been proposed is that (let us talk about writing single characters only) there are two aspects to good writing:
- Pen technique
- Structure of the character.
Although the brush and fountain pen are very different writing instruments, if the aesthetic sense remains the same, then this theory still stands when transplanted to the world of pens.
So, in this case, because this is a fountain pen blog, I will save the discussion on structure for another more appropriate forum. Pen technique is closely related to the characteristics of the pen that is being used, and I think the knowledge and selection of tools warrants a serious discussion here.
The “Pen’s Cutting Edge” or 笔锋
With that background being set, we can come back to the first picture that was shown, the “sharp edges” on characters that give it more definition and “life”.
In traditional calligraphy, there is already a name for this, 笔锋. For those who don’t read Chinese, the main character is 锋, which means the sharp edge (of a metal tool, like a knife 刀锋). Yes, you read that right, this “sharp edge of a pen (or brush)”, although small, is a significant feature of Chinese calligraphy, no matter what your writing tool is. Therefore, in pen calligraphy, it would be nice if we had writing tools that could replicate this effect relatively easily. For me at least, this is one of the very first features I look for when testing out fountain pens: is it easy to create 笔锋 or these tiny sharp edges?
In the next few posts, I will start sharing information on how the nibs of various manufacturers are helpful (or not helpful) in creating the sharp edges and details in writing, and also, discussions on associated topics like inks and papers, and how they can contribute to the overall success (or failure) in Chinese writing.
Thanks for Reading