The Four Treasures: Brushes

Japanese Calligraphy BrushesThe first and most important of the “four treasures” of calligraphy is the brush. The brush is an extension of the calligrapher. It is said that the writing comes from the calligrapher’s soul, rather than from the stroke of the brush. I think this is a crazy beautiful sentiment, even though, from looking at my brushstrokes, you can tell my soul is intensely nervous and unsure about calligraphy. A calligraphy brush is held much higher on the handle than a “normal” paintbrush. The thinking behind this is that the calligrapher isn’t controlling the brush, but kind of letting the image or the strokes come from within. So much about Japanese calligraphy and sumi-e is about centering the inner self and being at peace and not having control. I think this is why I find it so beautiful yet so frustrating. (I like control.)Japanese calligraphy brushesNaoto’s mom gave us several brushes from his aunt’s collection. Some of them are very worn…the ones with bushy bristles aren’t really useful anymore because to do calligraphy well, the brush ends need to come to a nice point. I still use the bushy brushes to do color washes when I’m playing around with watercolors. (Although, I’ve recently learned a calligraphy brush should never be used with anything but calligraphy ink because the bristles are chosen and made to work with those specific inks. Other inks can spoil the bristles. But, since these particular brushes are no longer useful in the calligraphy world, I think it’s nice to use them for something else.) japanese calligraphy brushThis particular brush is my favorite. I love its dark wooden handle. It’s a lovely brush that has never been used. Naoto discouraged me from using it (he and I both suffer from a fear of using lovely things) until now. I’ve been doing some research on how to prepare a new brush and how to care for a brush properly so I can make sure this one can be used for a long time. Once I feel properly informed and responsible, I’ll start using it.

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One thought on “The Four Treasures: Brushes

  1. cath says:

    It sounds so much like a spiritual practice. And I am sure it will work this way; the more inner calm the more beautiful the calligraphy and with practice inner calm will be its gift. I think the never used brush is beautiful and the used brushes move me when I imagine how much practice they saw and the serenity they will have achieved.
    Used and well cared for tools are a work of art in themselves, don’t you think?

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