Thursday, 13 October 2016
Chinese Calligraphy Lesson
While I was in Beijing, I had a fabulous couple of days with the children at the Beijing International Bilingual Academy. While Julia worked with the younger kids, I spent my time with the slightly older ones, running illustration workshops. It was pretty hard work, because every moment when we weren't either working or eating lunch, we were signing books for the children. Not that either of us would ever complain about that - it's GREAT to sign books and see the children so excited to be taking them home.
I did have one gap in my timetable though, after lunch on day one, I had a free 40 minutes. I probably should have crashed out for a while, but instead I had a free calligraphy lesson. Well: far too good an opportunity to miss.
It was the result of a chance remark to Stoyana, the truly lovely librarian who organised our visit to the school. As we headed upstairs together, on the way to my first workshop, I saw some beautiful Chinese calligraphy on the wall. 'I'd love to have a go at that one day...' I idly remarked. 'Well, you can do it today if you like,' said Stoyana. Within a few hours, I was at a desk, feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland, the only big person in a classroom of little people.
The teacher spoke no English at all and, since my Mandarin is limited to 'hello', 'thank you' and 'do you have beer?', I worked out what to do by following the example of the children around me. Mostly the teacher demonstrated, with the use of a visualiser, drawing one character at a time for the children to copy. I found it extremely relaxing, carefully imitating his hand-strokes, taking each stroke in the right order and feeling the rhythm and weight of the marks. It was very similar to drawing in watercolour, being sensitive to the light and shade of the brush pressure, though it was tricky getting just the right amount of ink on the brush: too much and it easily bled into the tissue-fine paper.
The children all seemed to be impressed with my efforts. Nobody laughed, which was good, not even the teacher. You can see my first efforts, working down the right hand column, where the ink has bled, before I got the hang of how much I needed on the brush, but it gradually gets cleaner as I work towards the left side:
I so enjoyed it that I have bought myself some brushes and Chinese ink, so I can continue to play at home. Thank you Stoyana, for such an unexpected treat!