Calligraphy 2 What are the Four Friends of the Study 文房四友?


In my second class we got to know our “Four Friends of the Study” 문방사우 文房四友. It was like the first week of school when you go to your class and get your new books for the year. So exciting. :)

So what are the four friends of the study?

Answer: 紙筆墨硯 지필묵연: paper, brush, ink, ink stone

calligraphy materials: on top of the paper is the text book, a block of ink, a bottle of ink, a paperweight, and a brush rolled up in a bamboo mat. 

There’s so much to know about this equipment – the type of brush, ink, and paper used and how much the ink is diluted will all effect the final piece of work. But as I am a beginner, I am just concentrating on learning the absolute basics. There’s plenty of time to get into all the details later.

筆墨硯 필묵연: paper, brush, ink, ink stone

紙 (지) Paper

Paper is 종이 (chong-i) in Korean but calligraphy paper is called 화선지 (hwa-son-ji). This paper is divided into 화선지 for practising and 화선지 for exhibition work. We each got a big stack of 화선지 to practise on. :) One side of the paper is smooth and the other side is a bit rough. We are supposed to use the smooth side to work on. The paper is very long long and narrow (35cm by 137cm). It looks like it’s yearning for elegant vertical lines of poetry to flow down it before being hung up triumphantly on a scroll. If that’s the case, I think my paper is going to be disappointed for the time being. Calligraphy paper is often made from 닥나무 the paper mulberry tree. And long ago when paper wasn’t available, people used to write on bamboo.


墨硯 지묵연: paper, brush, ink, ink stone

筆 (필) Brush

We also got a large brush called a 붓 (put) that comes wrapped in a bamboo mat for transportation. The brush is stiff when it’s new and shaped into a point with some kind of adhesive. (If I had been alone at home and trying to loosen the brush I think I would just have run the brush under the tap to loosen the hairs and wash away the glue. Perhaps slamming it down in the sink to break up the hairs. BUT NO, that is not the way to do it…) We were taught to press and massage the dry brush with our thumb gradually from the tip all the way down to the handle until all the hairs on the brush became loose and separated. Once this was done we wet the brush under the tap and squeezed out the excess water. The hairs on the brush can come from various animals including sheep, deer, horse, weasel, or chicken etc.  and the handle can be made of bamboo, gold, silver, copper, or ivory.

紙筆硯 지필연: paper, brush, ink, ink stone

墨 (묵) Ink

There are different types of ink too depending on the purpose of the ink – writing Chinese characters or drawing pictures. Strictly speaking we should be using a block of ink. But in that case we would have to rub it on the ink stone to dissolve the ink with water and this takes a long time. So for convenience we’re using ink that’s already in liquid form and ready to go :) We bought a block of ink too though. We were told to pour some bottled ink into the ink well and then dilute it down a bit with water.

紙筆墨硯 지필묵연: paper, brush, ink, ink stone

硯 (연) Ink stone

There are plenty of ink stones available at the class to use. So we don’t have to bring those with us – that’s good because they are quite heavy. But I bought this one at a calligraphy shop in Insadong to use at home. The ink stone is placed at the right side (if you are right handed) with the ink well away from you. You dip the brush in the well and wipe the excess ink on the flat piece of the stone. I think this piece of equipment really makes you feel like you are a serious calligrapher 😉

So now I am ready to start

Underneath the paper we should use a piece of felt. But conveniently in Korean calligraphy classes all the tables are covered in large felt tablecloths. (In Japan you have to bring your own private piece of felt!) All we need now is a long paperweight to keep the paper in place as we work on our masterpieces. Oh yes, and a model to copy.

The teacher gathers the students around him. Then he demonstrates what we will be working on today – four strokes that practise straight lines in different directions – horizontal left to right, vertical top down, diagonal top right bottom left, diagonal top left to bottom right – until we have made a kind of British flag. 😉 Starting and finishing the stroke is quite tricky as it’s important to get that rounded shape at the beginning and end. Another key point is that the stroke is not made in one go. It’s made in three or four moves without lifting the brush off the paper. The lines are not meant to be perfectly straight.

The teacher made a model for each of us beginners to copy. Other students who have been in the class longer are working on various styles of Chinese characters that are in the textbook. But first we have to master the basics…

First practice: calligraphy sample for students to follow


%d bloggers like this: