Discovering the Joy of Brush Calligraphy: My Journey to Daily Creativity
Through repetition you can tell a story, grow and learn a craft.
A repository of all my current works can be found here: brush.reggi.com.
There’s a pit in my stomach when I meet an artist and they ask me; “Are you an artist? What do you make?”. It’s a soul sinking feeling of self-disappointment. Alas I always respond, no, not really. It’s a mixture of impostor syndrome, and nothing to show for myself. I’ve always wanted a “body of work” in any capacity. For graphic designers, and software engineers that’s mostly a “portfolio” of ux or application design, or code repositories. From a professional standpoint this could be my github profile, and while yes code is art, it’s just not the same.
There are two competing ideas I hold. One is that “there’s something out there for me” an activity, art, medium, instrument, something that if I pick it up and simply try it, either I’ll be abnormally talented at it, or I’ll find it really enjoyable, this leads to a mentality of “The Renaissance
Man Person”, or “The Jack Person of All Trades”. You end up trying everything and never really sticking with it. One week it’s pottery, another it’s photography, perhaps embroidery, then it’s jewellery making, and crocheting, on and on and on. In the meantime you’re accumulating different tools, and resources to do the thing, immersing yourself in it for a couple of weeks and tossing it aside. The other competing idea is to pick something and just keep doing it, commit entirely to one thing, no matter how boring, monotonous, or uninterested in it you become. The simple act of commitment becomes the piece. This is common in Japanese culture where sushi chefs start out cooking rice for several years before they touch the fish.
The only thing I’ve ever been talented at, found enjoyable and empowering was coding, and I over time made it my profession. It didn’t really feel like a commitment, the process was fueled naturally by my curiosity. In my late 20’s I made a 3 month financial commitment to a Martial Art’s practice, I ended up going regularly for 5 years. This same sort of commitment happens when you pay for an unlimited yoga or gym membership. If you can go daily and you don’t technically you’re wasting money, this at times has made me feel really guilty for not going for weeks. Sometimes the simple act of showing up at the same place regularly opportunities arise, and true relationships with others, and internal learning begins.
In the beginning of the year I took a brush calligraphy with a local artist. I’ve been interested in western brush calligraphy since time practicing Aikido. There are a handful of interesting hobbies that buddhists in the monastic setting, from flower arrangement or “ikebana”, to carpentry or woodworking, and calligraphy is one of those skills.
The class was fantastic, and I was inspired to adopt it in my life. Now that I’m a bit older I believe more in daily commitment to a singular thing. I sought out to try something new, and make something daily. I’ve been doing a single 11x9 inch brush painting everyday for about a month.
I was originally using a bulldog clip and putting the work on the wall everyday, but soon accumulated a stack of them. I wanted to formalize the archive, and make a way to easily look through the work, so I purchased a couple of transparent-sleeve art books. I got a four pack and each book houses 60 works, so I have enough to almost cover an entire year.
I have 9-10 items that I use to make a work, I have a small black pouch I use to house all the items when I travel.
99 cent store tracing paper
A thin brush
A calligraphy brush
Red acrylic paint
Black sumi ink
Black ink pad
A small jar for water
A painting surface (old silicone mat I had lying around and a wooden board)
I fill up the small jar with water, gather all my items. I usually either sit on the floor or stand. I’ve experimented with having a the paper on the floor and raised on a floor-table as well. I submerge the brush in water, and remove the excess water using the washcloth. I rip a new sheet of paper out of the book, and put it on the mat. I dip the brush in the ink and draw a practice sheet, usually without re-dipping the brush. I use a technique I learned in the class which is to go in the opposite direction initially so right to left a little then draw a straight line across the page (in landscape) going a then as I come to the end I go back over the line a little right to left. I repeat this with the goal of maintaining line thickness and spacing until I reach the end of the sheet.
I put this sheet aside and reset the surface wiping of any ink that may have bleed through the page. I prep the surface for a new sheet. This is the main work. The goal is to do only one work, but sometimes this doesn’t always pan out, I make a couple, and throw some away. Before I “load up” the brush I meditate, breathe, and sometimes I visualize the shapes in my minds eye. I can “see” myself exploring a theme or shape and bam, I execute it. The goal is to not overthink it. The goal is to accept and trust the process, there’s always tomorrow. Sometimes it’s gonna be bad, and that’s ok, not everyone of them will be fulfilling.
Both works get a date stamped somewhere on the page using a adjustable rubber stamp. The main work gets a completely arbitrary red mark, this comes from the history of “The Artist's Seal” a red sigil that acted as a signature. Once the work dries it goes into the book.
There’s a couple of things I couldn’t fathom as a consequences of this daily practice. It comes down to styles evolving and growing, having preferences, and questioning those preferences. Why do I do this, this way? Why do I always start with the brush in this spot? How can I challenge that? What if I don’t to it this way? How hard am I pressing? I think that this happened because I didn’t push hard enough, I think that happens because I pushed too hard. I started to invent different styles and then combine them, trying out new ideas.
What I also didn’t realize is how transparent my emotions and mood would be in my work. Had a bad day? That work might look more aggressive, more sad. Had a great day? That work might look more bright and cheerful.
Another unintended consequence Is: I know the date! It’s easy to miss out on the passage of time. Having a daily practice means you can associate time with your work. Just like a journal can help rejog your memory when it comes to what you did, how you felt, what was going on your life, this daily art practice helps me mark the passage of time in a unique way.
I’m interested in the journey and where this takes me. Will I do it for a full year? Maybe! I think there’s a lot of potential in this process evolving and taking different avenues. The important lesson is to just start somewhere.
There’s something great about this daily brush-ink practice that’s simple, not too time consuming, and not too demanding. It’s meditative, and allows me to reflect on my day either at the beginning or the end of it. It has a small financial commitment under 50$ and has a relatively small footprint in my apartment. It’s brief and there’s not too much pressure to get it right. It’s satisfying to make a dark black mark on a white page. It’s a primal contrasting act of creation. Maybe next time someone asks me if I’m an artist I’ll simply say “yes”.
If you have a daily art practice I’d love to learn about it. How do you make art? How do you make it easy for you to make art? How do you document it and share it with the world?