Review of term 1 calligraphy class


I’ve reached the end of the first term of my calligraphy class. (March 6 to June 19 2013) 100% attendance too, so gold star for me! 😉 

Before I started the class I wondered if it would be worth traipsing ‘all the way’ over to the Art Centre each week, since there are probably plenty of calligraphy classes much nearer my house. But it definitely IS worth it and here are 4 reasons why: 


Reason 1


Just arriving at the centre puts me in an arty mood! :) Young people mill around with various musical instrument cases or portfolios, others walk by with the posture of ballet dancers. Groups of older ladies enjoy coffee together before watching a play or classical concert. And then there’s me armed with my rucksack of brushes and paper.

It’s a glorious feeling walking to class past the subdued shapes and colours of the modern architecture which seem to nuzzle in comfortably with the mountain behind it. Even though the architecture is modern, there is still a nod to tradition and the Joseon era as the roof of the opera house (above) is shaped like a gat – a hat worn by middle and upper class men in the Joseon period. :)

And every week the atmosphere feels a little different whether it’s the weather (!) or due to a new outdoor event. In March it was still cold – too cold to sit outside for coffee or lunch and the open spaces were deserted. Then the weather started warming up. The festive lanterns arrived for Buddha’s Birthday along with an outdoor sculpture exhibition. And now as the rainy season approaches we’ve had heavy rains that make the stone shiny and bright. But on dry days the temperature can reach over 30 degrees, so the cooling fountain is welcome as it performs its dance throughout the day.

calligraphy museumopera houseBuddha_birthdayart centreSeoul_art_centre3IMG_1468fountain at Seoul Art Centre

Reason 2


I’ve mentioned before how I did a little bit of calligraphy at a local community centre several years ago. Courses at community centres are pretty cheap and you sign up for three months. I think this is great if you just want a taste of what calligraphy is all about. But it means that students are starting and stopping the class at different times throughout the year. On the other hand, the Calligraphy Academy course starts in March ( we have to register by February). The course continues for a year so all the students start at the same time with the same textbook and work on the same Chinese characters together. I like that.

And obviously I can be confident that the teachers at the academy are ‘qualified’. I’m sure there are lots of great calligraphy teachers everywhere but how do I really know if they are good or not? The Calligraphy Academy has a good reputation. And there are regular exhibitions held here too so I have plenty of opportunities to see some of the best calligraphy work that’s around at the moment.

art centre

exhibition at the Calligraphy Academy 2013

At the beginning of the class, the teacher gathers us all around the table and demonstrates how to do each of the new characters for this week’s practice. And he gives some background info on how the meaning of the characters came about etc. Then we put our homework up on the wall to be evaluated by the teacher. Seeing other people’s corrections helps me to see my work more clearly too. And finally we practise in a peaceful atmosphere while the teacher comes around checking our work.

Since all the students are the same beginner level, we started by practising just straight strokes – horizontal, vertical, and diagonal. That was hard enough. Then we moved on to four characters. We were shown how to fold the long calligraphy paper into 16 squares leaving a margin at the top and bottom and down the left-hand side (a space to write the calligrapher’s name etc later) Then we moved on to eight new characters a week and now  we have to practise sixteen new ones a week! The pace is fast which keeps things interesting.

art centrecalligraphy practicecalligraphy IMG_1104

Starting from scratch at the calligraphy academy 

Reason 3


We use a textbook on the course. There are three groups of students in our classroom and each group uses a different book. We newbies are using a book of rubbings taken from the entire script of the inscription on the Gwangaeto Stele, the stone monument of King Gwanggaeto, (r.391-412) the 19th king of the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo (one of the three kingdoms along with Silla and Baekje) During King Gwanggaeto’s reign, Goguryeo prospered and became very powerful expanding into southern Manchuria and controlling most of the Korean peninsula.


scene from KBS historical drama The Great King Gwanggaeto (2011) 

The achievements of the King are written in classical Chinese on the monument in classical Chinese. (There’s a drama about his life too with 92 episodes. My guess is the plot includes a lot of battles …) The monument was ordered by King Gwanggaeto’s son King Jangsu in the year 414 to honour his father. The monument has 1,802 Chinese characters (altogether) covering the monument on all four sides! But we (well, I, ) don’t really worry so much about the meaning of the characters but rather focus on the shape of the characters and painting them well and in proportion. I don’t think we’ll make it all the way through the book this year (I’m not good at maths but there are 1,802 characters and we only practice 16 a week. We don’t practise the same character twice though. For example the hanja for king – 王 (wang 왕) appears again and again but we just practise it for one week. But still surely it’s impossible to finish the whole textbook in a year?)

Actually I didn’t know anything about the Gwanggaeto Stele until now. I don’t know much about that period of Korean history since I’ve been focusing on the Joseon period. The original stele is now in China but I may have to take a trip to see the replica which is at the War Memorial of Korea.

So far, we have also been recommended other books to buy – I bought a dictionary of Calligraphy styles and a book on how to read poetry in Chinese characters. (That one is still a bit challenging 😉 )

IMG_1158 Gwanggaeto_stelecalligraphy

Page 1 of the Gwanggaeto Stele textbook. We work back to front and downwards, so the first character is top right on the first page of the book

Reason 4


Here comes a very practical reason! We can get a discount on everything we buy including – paper, ink, brushes, etc. So that can’t be bad. :) And the brushes and ink have been chosen for us by the school so I don’t have to roam around the shops looking for equipment and wondering if it’s good quality or if I’m buying the right thing!

calligraphy materialscalligraphy paper

So yes, it’s been a great first term and all that’s left to do now is practise like mad before term 2. Otherwise I might be back to square one by the time August arrives…

2 thoughts on “Review of term 1 calligraphy class

  • June 26, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Congratulations on your successful completion of your first term of Calligraphy! That is great. I am envious; you certainly are in the right place to study Calligraphy and Chinese letters. The Seoul Art Centre is the right choice for sure. I picked up just a few Chinese words and scripts while I was in Korea. Mostly from the Korean newspapers (now the internet). Keep up the great progress. (Attendance is important too *** shows that you are dedicated. . .)

    • June 29, 2013 at 3:16 pm

      Thanks! I know I have a great opportunity here to learn calligraphy and should make the most of it.

      Having said that, I’ve also realised the importance of having a weekly class to go to: it forces me to practise during the week. I’m afraid to say that since we finished the first term, I’ve gone into holiday mode and haven’t practised at home at all. :(

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