Club Cantonese hosts new and creative hands-on event

March 3, 2017

For the first time, Brandeis’ Club Cantonese hosted Calligraphy Night on Friday, Feb. 10. Around 20 students gathered inside of the Slosberg recital hall to learn about Chinese calligraphy firsthand from a calligraphy master.

The first half of the event was a detailed information session by calligraphy master Mike Mei. Calligraphy is the art of handwriting, involving form and specific ink instruments. Mei broke down the making of Chinese calligraphy into four tools, or the “four treasures”: the brush, Chinese ink, rice paper and a stamp.

The brush contains two parts, head and shaft. The head is made out of white and dark hairs taken from various animals, according to Mei. The white hairs come from either sheep or goats and the dark hairs are derived from wolf and horse hair. The shaft is made out of wood lacquer or porcelain, and some precious materials that include jade and ivory.

Mei explained that a calligrapher typically uses four brushes. To make small Chinese characters and small details, one may use a small brush or the very tip of a big brush. Big brushes are also used to make large Chinese characters.

When holding the brush to make calligraphy, as described by Mei, one must grip the shaft between the thumb and the middle and index finger. To move the brush involves both the ring finger and a sway of the wrist. It is important to keep the paint brush wet because it allows for nice and easy flow of brush strokes.

Calligraphers paint with black permanent ink on rice paper. Rice paper is preferred because of its transparency, making the final product look neat and elegant, according to Mei. The ink can be manipulated to make five different shades by simply adding water. The shades range from black to a very light gray, he demonstrated.

The stamp is the last treasure for a calligrapher. The stamp is used as a signature for a calligrapher’s art pieces. Mei uses two stamps in his calligraphy paintings: One says his name and another contains an image of his zodiac animal.

After Mei’s explanation of how Chinese calligraphy is made, there was a 20-minute intermission, during which the members of Club Cantonese passed out Hong Kong-style egg tarts and juan dui, two Cantonese pastries. Egg tarts look similar to tiny pies, made with egg custard and bread crust. Juan dui are sesame balls with red bean filling inside.

During the second half of Calligraphy Night, Mei made two calligraphy paintings. The first was a poem using Chinese characters and the second was a painting of bamboo. He made sure all of the students were standing around his table so that they could watch his technique and the entire process up-close.

The poem Mei wrote was “qīng fēng míng yuè” which translates to “cool breeze and bright moon, peaceful and clear night, living a solitary and quiet life.” Before making a mark on a blank white rice paper, Mei folded the paper into a row of four squares. While he was painting the big characters, Mei emphasized the importance of silence and calmness. By painting in silence one can transfer their true tone and feelings onto the painting. “Keep your ears inside, it helps keep the characters look lively,” he said.

There are five styles of Chinese calligraphy writing: seal script, clerical script, regular script, running script and cursive script (zhua, li, ky, xing and cao), according to Mei. The third style, regular script, is the most exposed in the Western world. Characters in this style have a square shaped form. The most important style, however, is the first one, the seal script. The distinctive characteristic about the seal script is that the Chinese characters are vertical. The second style, clerical script, is horizontal. Although calligraphy in China dates back to the Shang dynasty in 1600 BCE, the evolution of seal script came during the Qin dynasty, Mei said.

In order to understand Chinese culture, it is important to understand calligraphy because it is at the core of Chinese culture, Mei expressed. The difference between English and Chinese calligraphy is that unlike with English writing, Chinese calligraphy is a world-class art form.

At the end of the event, smiles appeared on the students’ faces as they all participated in making their very own calligraphy art.

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