ALANA Cultural Center Hosts Chinese Calligraphy Workshop


On Wednesday, Feb. 10, the Organization of Asian Sisters in Solidarity (OASIS) and the ALANA Cultural Center hosted an evening workshop on Chinese calligraphy in honor of the Lunar New Year.

The event was led by Fulbright scholar Abby Hsu, hailing from Taiwan, who taught the attendees about traditional calligraphy. Each attendee picked up a bag from the ALANA Cultural Center, which contained paper, brushes, an ink stone and an ink stick. 

Hsu walked attendees through the different materials in the calligraphy kits and explained the different styles of each item. Some of the paper we were given was much thinner, almost resembling tissue paper. Hsu told us that the thinner the paper, the more exact the artist’s calligraphy can be, as the ink dries faster. She also explained how to identify different qualities of ink: expensive ink has an earthy smell to it whereas cheap ink has a chemical odor. 

Additionally, Hsu presented a video about the traditional ink making process. The ink is made from pine soot, collagen from animals as well as incense or different organic materials for preservation. Examples include clove, white sandalwood, oriental sweetgum or pearl dust, to name a few. 

The session began by placing a small amount of water on the inkstone, and then rubbed the ink stick in a circular motion against the stone in order to transfer the pigment of the water. This process takes increasingly longer if a darker pigment ink pigment is desired, as we spent a good 30 minutes rubbing our ink sticks. Personally, my ink was still very light but I think I added too much water. 

Junior Faith Christenson commented on the ink making technique, “It was a tedious process trying to balance the ink properly so that it would be optimal for the calligraphy, and yet it was kind of relaxing too.”

While preparing the ink, Hsu also introduced us to the history behind the Lunar New Year and the different animals. The traditional story is of The Great Race. Legend has it that the Jade Emperor made a calendar that pictured the first twelve to reach the Heavenly Gates. The story details how each animal crossed the river and reached the gate: first came the rat, followed by the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog and finally the pig. 

After finishing the ink-making process, Hsu detailed writing traditional Chinese messages for the Lunar New Year as well as how to write the word “ox”. 

At the end of the lesson, Christenson reflected on her reasons for attending the event:

“In general, I wanted to learn more about the holiday and be able to celebrate it along the way. I thought attending one of the calligraphy events would be perfect! So much can be learned about culture through art forms and ways of expression. This is especially true for the practice of Chinese Calligraphy. It is a beautiful art form and I enjoyed being able to use it to help welcome the year of the Ox.”