The Chinese ink brush, a tool for calligraphy and painting, is considered to be one of the “Four Treasures of the Study” (wen fang si bao), along with the ink, the ink stone and the paper. These four are so named because they are the essential pieces of equipment for Asian calligraphy.
The brush pen is a very unique, delicate writing instrument. The bristles of the brush are typically made from some type of animal hair, like sheep, pig or rabbit fur. Bamboo is most commonly used to make the long handle, but some of the more unusual brush stems are made from rarer materials like gold, jade and sandalwood.
The brush pen is surrounded by extensive history and etiquette. The oldest known brush pen was found near Changsha in a tomb from the Warring States Period (475 – 221 B.C.). According to legendary accounts, General Meng Tian created the first brush pen during the ancient Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 B.C.), though it is unknown whether there is any factual basis for this story.
The design and use of the ink pen has contributed to the styles and methods of calligraphy writing and Chinese brush painting. Both are very delicate arts that involve soft, sweeping motions of the hand to paint delicate strokes of each character.
The Chinese style of calligraphy dictates that the ink brush be held and positioned in a specific manner. The stem of the brush is gripped between the thumb and middle finger, while the index finger gently rests on the top end of the stem. The knuckles ring and pinkie fingers tuck under the stem, allowing the nails to rest along the bottom end of the stem. The palm of the hand is kept folded away from the brush. When painting, the brush is to be held vertically upright, never tilting down or sideways.
It takes years of practice to master the art of calligraphy. The special stroke order used for writing Chinese characters is an incredibly important aspect of calligraphy painting, as it affects the way that the brush strokes appear on the paper. Many Chinese children learn calligraphy as an extracurricular subject, similar to learning a musical instrument or playing a sport. Unfortunately in modern times, this tradition has become less appealing to younger generations.