This year I started to take an interest in calligraphy. Seeing some of the amazing creations out there really inspired me. But in western calligraphy, it’s all about the nib – the metal thingy at the end of a fountain pen. In Shodou – Japanese calligraphy – there is no pen at all. To me, Japanese calligraphy is much closer to watercolor painting than western calligraphy.
First you have the fude or brush. Fude come in many different sizes and shapes. Traditionally the brush is made from animal hair like horse, goat, sheep and even weasel and squirrel hair! You pick the brush depending on the size of the artwork you’re creating as well as the type of character(s) you’ll be writing. Kanji usually require a larger, stiffer brush while hiragana & katakana would use a thinner, softer brush. Also, a traditional fude brush has a bamboo handle.
Of course you don’t have to stick with tradition at all. Today many companies make fude brush pens. Some still have an actual brush tip, but others have a soft, flexible foam tip that simulates a brush. They work great for creating dynamic ink lines when drawing manga or western comics, as well as practicing your Japanese handwriting.
If you are a fan of Mushi-shi, you may remember the episode called “The White Which Lives Within the Ink Stone”. In the episode, some kids sneak into a doctor’s shed and find a suzuri (ink stone) that contains a mushi. We find out that every person who ever used this suzuri has died.
Hopefully any suzuri you might use will be free from any supernatural beings. But regardless, the suzuri is where you place a bit of water, then rub the sumi (ink stick) to create the ink you will use. And, for those who are impatient, you also can simply purchase pre-made sumi ink, called bokuju. Just keep in mind, in Japan when you study shodou, only children use bokuju and serious students stick to tradition by using sumi and creating their own ink.
Beyond that, when you prepare to practice shodou, you first lay down a shitajiki (no that’s not the name of a mushroom), which is basically a piece of felt. On top of that you lay your hanshi (traditional paper) and you put a bunchin (paper weight) to hold the paper still while you work. You also need a mizusashi (water container).
One thing to consider about shodou is, you don’t necessarily have to know how to speak, read or write Japanese to study it. It’s much more like water color painting where you need to develop your technique and practice your craft. There’s no reason anyone should be held back from giving it a try, regardless of your native language.
So what do you think? Will you make learning shoudou your next craft project?