Hanja for Cimi: Handwriting Chinese Letters

I’ve been quiet because of a self-imposed no-electronics week off, but I am cheating a little to write Cimi a post.  ^^

This week, I won’t present a new character, but just share my novice attempts to learn how to write Chinese characters (Hanja 한자).

practice writing Chinese

The relationship between Chinese characters and Korean is similar to Latin and English. Learning a few basic characters helps my Korean vocabulary.

Similar to how artists have their tools and techniques, I am trying to figure out what to use to write Chinese characters.  I am confronted with more questions than answers.

Tools: paper, brush, ink.

Techniques: how to hold the pen, order of strokes, speed, pressure, spacing, angle.

How to hold the pen:  I have seen two descriptions of how to hold the brush pen. “My First Book of Chinese Calligraphy” says the brush must be held straight up and down.  The arm moves (not just the wrist) and the rolling between fingers lets the brush make those fluid movements to make curves in one stroke.  “Practice Makes Perfect: Writing Chinese Characters” describes a hold closer to a pen with a 45 degree angle between pen and paper and resting the forearm on the table naturally.  Both stress good posture, with feet flat on the floor.

straight up calligraphypen-like grip


I started out just drawing lines on different types of paper, with different instruments.  I used a firm tip nylon brush pen, a regular ink pen, a flexible nylon bristle brush pen, and a nylon paint brush with watercolor paint.  I practiced with the Hangul alphabet, and then for fun drew lines on the Death Star using different pens and grips.

line practice


Here is my water color Hangul practice.

water color Hangul


For note taking, the firm tip brush pen is quick, consistent, easy to maneuver, with a rich ink color.  In the first picture, you can see me trying to achieve the little flourishes in the handwritten characters.   “My First Book of Chinese Calligraphy” describes it like this:

“In China, they say that to give energy to the strokes and make them beautiful, the brush needs to ‘take a running start.’  The attack – the beginning of the stroke – is that running start.  It’s a tiny movement, like a loop that barely turns the point of your brush back over on itself.  And the end is when the brush, at the end of the stroke, pulls back a little to stop the energy.”

This is a picture of the horizontal stroke:

horizontal stroke

Here is the turning stroke:

turning stroke

I am pretty critical of my first few attempts.  Surely this is a skill that takes practice.  I was far too shaky and the new way of holding a brush is unfamiliar.  I am aware that writing “square letters” with consistent spacing is different than the proportional spacing with letter overlap that I am use to in English.

In an attempt to figure out how to use a brush pen, I browsed videos and books about Roman calligraphy, drawing, watercolors, and Chinese brush painting.   In learning how to write ABC’s, we were taught about pen angle, paper orientation, letter slant, upper and lower case letters with ascending and descending parts, serifs, white space, printing, cursive, and typography.  I know that finger motions write small letters on a flat desk, hand motions write medium letters on an inclined desk, and arm motions write large letters on a wall.  Letters can be written with anything from a fine pen to a large paintbrush.  Do any of these rules apply to writing Chinese letters and calligraphy?

My worry is if someone who can’t draw can manage to learn enough to make passable Chinese letters for my own use.  I have no aspirations for mastering Chinese calligraphy, but do want my scrawls to be readable.  Perhaps that is asking a lot, because I can’t claim to have the most elegant script in English.  I still write best on lined paper.  In days when cursive is being dropped from school curriculum, handwriting is no longer a priority in education, but I am old school and still find being unable to write down Chinese characters in my notes to be a problem for my learning.

So for now, I will stick with my lined paper and practice drawing straight lines and holding my pen/brush.  It is elementary, but a part of my learning process.

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One Response to Hanja for Cimi: Handwriting Chinese Letters

  1. Cimi says:

    Ah, you’re taking a media break, I see. My version of a break was to sit back and enjoy reading your post with no distractions. It is interesting that you wonder if an artistic flair and understanding is necessary for proper Chinese characters. My initial reaction was “No,” but as I consider the ancient tradition of Chinese calligraphy, it does stem from artistic tradition and mastery. That is not to say that a legible rendition is difficult to achieve: I don’ think that is true. One of the biggest differences between the Roman lettering you describe and Chinese calligraphy is the former is flat tipped or pointed, while the latter is round and a softer tipped. (Even quills dipped in ink have a hard tip.) I do not associate brush strokes with Roman lettering, but with Chinese calligraphy I think of brush strokes. I hadn’t thought of this before, but Roman lettering more closely resembles drawing, whereas Chinese lettering more closely resembles watercolor. Thank you for the post even during your break from media; the nature of the subject lends itself to that, doesn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

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