Art Works by Prof. Horace Ip (葉豪盛)
Physics and Metaphysics of a Simple Calligraphic Stroke
Whenever writing calligraphy, I am intrigued by the concept of “strength” or “force” that is frequently attributed to the aesthetic quality of a calligraphic stroke. In reality, the soft rice paper takes no strength (or it will tear) and the fine sheep hairs of a Chinese writing brush is clearly not the most effective tool to exert a strong force on anything. How can one combine the two forms of softness to create the perception of “strength” in a calligraphic stroke?
First, let us consider the Physics. In skiing, a person can stay on the surface of water is due to his/her motion through a viscous medium, in this case, water. The same person will sink as soon as s/he becomes stationary. In calligraphy, the brush is the skier while the soft rice paper provides the soft “watery” medium. Therefore, when a calligrapher moves the writing brush and its soft sheep hairs against the surface of the soft rice paper in a correct way, the brush would “ski” over the soft paper surface. This ski-like motion of the brush squeezes the ink from the brush into the fabric of the rice paper. The better the brush “skis” on the rice paper, the more ink it can deposit into the paper. Alas, it is not the hard physical force that one applies directly “downward” (or presses) on the paper that creates the perception of strength, but by contrast, it is the light dancing and traversing movement of the brush against the surface of the paper that creates such imprints of “strength”.
Let us now turn to the metaphysics of perception. How do we perceive “strength” on a stroke painted on soft paper? When the soft tissue-like paper absorbs a large amount of ink within a small area, the ink-soaked area starts to crease which gives a viewer the perception that the stroke is actually “engraved” into the fabric of the paper, in a way similar to the appearance of the calligraphy that has been engraved onto the surface of a stone tablet.
The art of using two physically soft media to create the metaphysical perception of engravings is just one of the essences of Chinese calligraphy.