紙筆硯墨 지필연묵 My First Calligraphy Class in Seoul

I’ve been meaning to join a calligraphy class for ages because I wanted to do something artistic and finally I did it.  The first class was last Thursday afternoon at the local culture centre. Each term lasts for three months (30,000 won, very cheap) and the classes are once a week. I was told by the ladies at reception when I applied for the course that I’d have to bring all my own stuff : – ink 먹, paper 종이, brush 붓, as the only thing they have there are the ink stones벼루. I did a bit of calligraphy in Japan years ago and still had some brushes. So I dug those out and bought a stack of paper and a bottle of ink from the local stationary shop with the dream that I will soon be writing beautiful hangul…

I have a talent, but it is for always arriving just that little bit too late for events where it would be a lot better to arrive 10 minutes early. I did it again for the first lesson. I was only five minutes late but the teacher was already at the front of the class talking to a packed room of students sitting at long rows of tables with dark blue felt tablecloths. The teacher was indicating towards the two lines of hanja he had written on the board and the students were quietly copying it down into their notebooks. I was very confused since I had signed up for the hangul 한글 lessons not hanja 漢字. Perhaps if I had arrived ON TIME I would have known what was going on. I discovered later that the sentences on the board were a Korean poem and that at the beginning of each lesson for about 30 minutes we’ll learn a new poem and the teacher introduces the meaning and reading of the hanja and we read the poem out loud together. I like this.

Anyway, after I tried to sit in someone else’s seat at the back of the room, a lady, I thinks she’s a coordinator, got up and escorted me to the front row dragging a chair from another table for me to sit on. I was feeling hot, bothered and conspicuous as I squeezed through the rows of seats and tables. While the students copied from the board. The teacher asked me where I was from and a few minutes later asked me to introduce myself to the class. (gulp) I stood up and turned to the room making an attempt at a 자기소개 (cha-gi so-ge) self introduction. The group seems to be made up largely of older men and (I assume) homemakers who are able to study on weekday afternoons. It was a friendly group but I was still nervous.

Later everyone got on with their own work. The students are all at different levels. Some have been coming to the class for years and they started hanging long vertical lengths of paper with lines of hangul down them around the walls for the teacher’s critique. Other students worked on smaller paper, sitting in their seats copying the teacher’s hangul example. There was a small group of beginners and we gathered around the teacher as he showed us how to hold the brush vertically and then how to dip the whole head of the brush (not just the tip) in the ink and then brush off the excess ink on the edge of the ink stone properly before starting the first stroke. (Otherwise you’ll just get a big blob of ink on the fine paper) I was excited to see what we would be writing first. We were told that we would start with the basics – 기본, ki-bon.

Here’s the teacher’s example. It all looks pretty straight forward – straight horizontal lines and then straight vertical lines. The key is to do the strokes slowly.

Here are some of my efforts

Yes. I need practice.

I cut my paper into smaller pieces and for the rest of the class sat at my table trying to focus on straight, even, beautiful lines. Oh dear. It was an interesting afternoon though and I’m looking forward to the next lesson.  But this is not as easy as it looks and I’m going to have to practise at home.

I think the culture centres are a great place to study for anyone who has free time during the week. (there are no classes at weekends) I picked up a pamphlet listing all the courses that run at the centre which include:

music – various singing classes, ocarina, guitar, drum, gugak, harmonica for beginners, intermediate, and advanced

Sports –  yoga, pilates

Dance – sports dance, traditional Korean dance, childrens’ ballet

Arts – watercolor, Indian ink landscape painting, calligraphy, flower arranging, and the intriguingly named 사군자 saguncha – in the dictionary this came up as the four gracious plants of plum, chrysanthemum, orchid and bamboo. I thought it might be flower arranging but actually it’s ink painting,

Language and Culture – English conversation for beginners, English through pop songs, Japanese, Chinese, hangul for beginners and intermediate (this is free), and Understanding Korean traditions and culture. (in Korean)

5 thoughts on “紙筆硯墨 지필연묵 My First Calligraphy Class in Seoul

  • May 23, 2010 at 10:23 pm
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    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian, iwspo.net

    Reply
    • May 27, 2010 at 7:52 pm
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      Thanks for reading my blog and the positive feedback! I’m new to this so still experimenting with ideas for posts.

      Always happy for any suggestions.

      Reply
  • May 21, 2012 at 7:24 am
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    I would learn as well. Where did you find the class?

    Reply
  • May 21, 2012 at 5:21 pm
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    I had lessons at my local culture centre. (mun hwa centre 문화센터) Each gu in Seoul has one and they have all kinds of different classes (as well as calligraphy) throughout the day. The classes are cheap and pretty popular. So the best thing to do is to find out where your nearest culture centre is. (You will need to buy paper, ink, and a brush from any large stationery shop. Insadong has lots of specialist shops too.)

    The teacher may not speak English though. I have not been able to find anywhere that does classes in English. But if you call the telephone number 120 (02 120 from a mobile) and wait for the English operator, they can help you locate the culture centre in your area. They will also interpret for you over the phone if you need help when you apply for the course – some of the classes focus on hanja (Chinese characters) and some teach hangul, so it depends which one you are interested in. Or you could do both! Hope this helps.

    Reply
  • June 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm
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    where is this culture center? how can I find these courses?

    Reply

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