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What are the Four Elements of Calligraphy?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 23, 2024
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The four elements of Chinese calligraphy are the four tools that are required in order to create the calligraphy. The four elements are the brush, the rice paper, the ink, and the ink stone. Chinese calligraphy is an art that can take many years to master. In fact, even seasoned calligraphers, like practiced artists, continue to improve upon and make adjustments to their calligraphy.

Calligraphy must be created with a brush in order to effect the kind of sweeping lines that are a part of the print. The brushes that are used to write Chinese calligraphy are made of very specific materials. The handles of the brushes are made almost exclusively of bamboo wood; this gives the brushes a light but durable handle. The brush itself is made of hair, usually from horses, sheep, and sometimes weasels. Home-made brushes are sometimes made with hair cut from the head of a baby in the family. Not only is baby hair soft and fine, creating a distinct quality for the brush, but it is also a way to commemorate a child in the family.

The second element of Chinese calligraphy is the rice paper. Rice paper is the traditional kind of parchment used to print Chinese calligraphy on. Since rice is a standard crop in China, it is used for many items outside of the kitchen, including paper. Rice paper is quite thin and absorbs the ink that is used to write the calligraphy.

This brings us to the third and fourth elements of Chinese calligraphy: the ink and the ink stone. Generally, calligraphy is written in black ink. The ink is poured into an ink stone for ready use by the calligrapher. The ink stone is simply a bowl for the ink made of rock or earthenware.

Sometimes people practice calligraphy by using water instead of ink and by writing on rock, pavement, or some other surface that will dry easily and will not be damaged by the water. This is a good way to practice without wasting ink or paper. Also, when the water dries, it sometimes leaves a faint outline of the calligraphy that was written on the stone or pavement. Calligraphers can study these outlines to decide what they need to work on to improve their calligraphy.

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Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By GrumpyGuppy — On Jan 02, 2011

@dill1971: I do not recommend using India ink for calligraphy. It has a very adhesive and strong quality and doesn’t flow freely. When you go into an art supply store, you can ask specifically for calligraphy ink. You can get the traditional nib pen that is dipped into ink or calligraphy pens that have built-in ink cartridges.

You can also use calligraphy markers, which I highly recommend for a beginner. You just take the cap off and start writing. They come in a large variety of colors.

By dill1971 — On Dec 31, 2010

Can you use India ink for calligraphy? Also, are there different types of calligraphy pens?

By googie98 — On Dec 28, 2010

Interesting article. I never knew there were any "elements" of calligraphy. My sister uses calligraphy writing on all of her special occasion cards. It is really beautiful.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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