Calligraphy is a visual art related to writing. It is the design and execution of lettering with a broad tip instrument, dip pen, or brush, among other writing instruments. A contemporary calligraphic practice can be defined as, “the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious, and skillful manner”.
Modern calligraphy ranges from functional inscriptions and designs to fine-art pieces where the letters may or may not be readable. Classical calligraphy differs from typography and non-classical hand-lettering, though a calligrapher may practice both.
Calligraphy continues to flourish in the forms of wedding and event invitations, font design and typography, original hand-lettered logo design, religious art, announcements, graphic design and commissioned calligraphic art, cut stone inscriptions, and memorial documents. It is also used for props and moving images for film and television, testimonials, birth and death certificates, maps, and other written works.
The Chinese name for calligraphy is shūfǎ (書法 in Traditional Chinese, literally “the method or law of writing”); the Japanese name shodō (書道, literally “the way or principle of writing”); the Korean is seoye (Korean: 서예/書藝, literally “the art of writing”); and the Vietnamese is Thư pháp (書法, literally “the way of letters or words”). The calligraphy of East Asian characters is an important and appreciated aspect of East Asian culture.
On Calligraphy by Mi Fu, Song Dynasty
Traditional East Asian writing uses the Four Treasures of the Study (文房四寶/文房四宝): the ink brushes known as máobǐ (毛笔) to write Chinese characters, Chinese ink, paper, and inkstone, known as the Four Friends of the Study (Korean: 문방사우) in Korea. In addition to these four tools, desk pads and paperweights are also used.
The shape, size, stretch, and hair type of the ink brush, the color, color density and water density of the ink, as well as the paper’s water absorption speed and surface texture are the main physical parameters influencing the final result. The calligrapher’s technique also influences the result. The calligrapher’s work is influenced by the quantity of ink and water he lets the brush take, then by the pressure, inclination, and direction he gives to the brush, producing thinner or bolder strokes, and smooth or toothed borders. Eventually, the speed, accelerations, decelerations of the writer’s moves, turns, and crochets, and the stroke order give the “spirit” to the characters, by greatly influencing their final shapes.
Japanese and Korean calligraphies were greatly influenced by Chinese calligraphy. The Japanese and Korean people have also developed specific sensibilities and styles of calligraphy. For example, Japanese calligraphy go out of the set of CJK strokes to also include local alphabets such as hiragana and katakana, with specific problematics such as new curves and moves, and specific materials (Japanese paper, washi 和紙, and Japanese ink). In the case of Korean calligraphy, the Hangeul and the existence of the circle required the creation of a new technique which usually confuses Chinese calligraphers.
Temporary calligraphy is a practice of water-only calligraphy on the floor, which dries out within minutes. This practice is especially appreciated by the new generation of retired Chinese in public parks of China. These will often open studio-shops in tourist towns offering traditional Chinese calligraphy to tourists. Other than writing the clients name, they also sell fine brushes as souvenirs and lime stone carved stamps.
Calligraphy has influenced ink and wash painting, which is accomplished using similar tools and techniques. Calligraphy has influenced most major art styles in East Asia, including ink and wash painting, a style of Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese painting, and Vietnamese painting based entirely on calligraphy.