Published: April 25th 2006April 25th 2006
"Okay. Now try this" he paints on a sheet of see-through white paper with a beautiful large brush and I look on amazed as each stroke goes on the paper unanounced and yet perfect. Each line not a line but a piece of art. How can one line make itself into such art? I wonder amazed.
I try it myself but I am afraid. The man who just left scared me. Scared me out of my comfort. I have been left with a shallow self, shaking on the inside a bit and it shows. It shows on the paper with each stroke. The lines are not his lines, not beautiful strokes but shaky to the point of sometimes even being invisible.
"No, no, not that. Argh."
He shows me again. And again the same beautiful strokes make different lines. Just like a professional musician can play the same beautiful notes and never play them the same each time so he too paints the same strokes but in a slightly different way.
I try again with a little more confidence. "No, no, not that way. Craig must be a natural at this stuff."
He draws the beginning of a shrimp thinking it might be his beginning strokes that are difficult for me. Two simple lines.
"No, NO!" I can't even make the two lines correct. "Look at what Craig did, his is beautiful. Here, now let's try it this way."
"You try teaching her for a little bit." My teacher says to the man who they call Mr. Lee.
He and I draw the two strokes for ten minutes straight. Finally my other teacher says what I've been thinking all along "she wants to draw characters, not shrimp. Try teaching her the characters again."
Mr. Lee gets a phone call as my teacher returns to his spot next to me behind the chests that they have formed into tables and redraws the characters. Three simple characters that are my name "Li Mei Hua". From right to left this time, or up to down. Neither have I used or seen aside from this particular art in current times. Mr. Lee gives up and leaves after he gets off the phone. He is frustrated with the lines. As well he should be. After all I haven't held a paintbrush since I was in middle school. Forget the fact that I've never studied the Chinese culture behind painting. I am far out of practice.
My teacher tries a bunch of different techniques to writing my name and finally I hear "Wow, look at this. Hey, come over here!" He calls to my other teacher. He comes over and as I retrace his characters with my eyes and paint my own with my hands I hear "Wow, she can do this and that. This is pretty good." "Foreigners are natural at it. She might not even know how to write a character but she can still do it. Try giving her a harder one." They give another and another for me to trace with my eyes until we get to the point that the characters are so difficult I no longer know which part of the character to draw first. Then we stop, sitting down to take a break.
"I know I can't paint a picture but can you teach me how to paint characters?" They simply nod as if I were asking a very simple question. "Yes." They continue to nod and continue the conversation onto something else. They are older and have painted for quite some time now. They are two of Dalian's finest painters. Students of those who studied from the great Chinese masters in calligraphy and other arts. Names that anyone around China who knows painting has heard of and knows. The Greats.
My father read me a passage about Chinese characters a few days ago. About how each character tells its own passage. How beautiful doesn't just mean beautiful but shows its meaning. I think there is nothing better than calligraphy to truly exemplify this idea. Although even in typed characters one can see the story behind one simple character. But the story is told differently for each individual. Each of us see "shi" (wet) from a different light. Through our own eyes, our own experiences. To me the radical only shows the beginning, where it started. The radical for "shi" is water, as well it should be. But then comes the story. To me the remainder of the character shows the head of a shower with two simple drops of water falling down the pipe to the base, or drain if one wishes of the shower. But this is my story, not one that is told in the books. Each character comes from a long history, traced from the picture itself to an "oracle bone inscription" to a small seal character to the official script and finally to the complex character in regular script (or traditional script) that is still to this day used in such places as Taiwan and parts of Hong Kong. Then comes the simplified character in regular script (or simply "simplified script") that is what is predominant around China in the current modern times. To many this means little but if one takes a book and looks at the progression of each character it amazes the eye. This is, I believe, the true reason for the amazement that is shown in calligraphy. A true calligrapher can draw the same character a million times and never in the same way. This is what I love about calligraphy and why I have chosen to pursue the art. Not only will it help me learn Chinese characters but it will help me learn the culture behind the characters and the art of calligraphy itself.
Now if only I can get myself some brushes ...