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Ink Stick

Legend says that King Yi first invented ink stick about 2,800 years ago, yet archaeologists have detected ink marks on the back of inscribed bones or tortoise shells of the Shang Dynasty, 3,200 years ago. There are many varieties of ink stick. The most famous is hui mo;(Anhui ink stick), made from the pines that grow on Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) in Anhui Province. The trees are burned and the soot left after burning makes excellent ink stick. Xi, a famous ink maker, moved to Shexian County in Anhui at the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). His method for making ink stick from pine soot was handed down to later generations. Such a ink stick has enjoyed a good reputation for more than a thousand years. The Anhui ink stick has magic qualities. It is as hard as stone and does not deteriorate for as long as ten years. The ink produced from the Anhui ink stick is as black as black paint. Many charming stories and anecdotes about the Anhui ink stick have been recounted in literary circles, past and present. Ink sticks fall into three major categories, according to the chief materials used in manufacture. The pine-soot ink stick. This is made with the mixture of pine soot, which is the main part, a certain amount of glue, medicinal material and spices. The oil-soot ink stick. Tung oil, sesame oil, rapeseed oil or petroleum is burned and the soot is mixed with gelatine, medicinal material and spices. The oil- and pine-soot ink stick. This is a mixture of the previous materials for making the oil-soot ink stick and pine-soot ink stick. Proportions vary, and the quality of the ink stick differs accordingly.

Choosing The Ink Stick

The quality of the ink stick may be judged by its color and sound. Glossy purple is best. Black is second. Glossy green is third. Glossy white is last. If you strike the ink stick and it gives a light sound, this means it is a fine ink stick. If the sound is muffled, it is not a good one. If the sound is fine when you grind the ink stick on the slab, it means you have a good ink stick. If the sound is rough during grinding, it means the ink stick is none too good.

How To Grind The Ink Stick

Clean water is used for grinding. The best water contains a small amount of salt. Next comes well water, then tap water, then distilled water. Do not Use tea or hot water to grind an ink stick.

The ink stick must be balanced in the hand during grinding or rubbing. Press hard and rub lightly. Rub the ink stick slowly and evenly against the ink slab or ink stone in big circles. At first use only a little water. When a thick liquid forms, add water and rub or grind again. The thickness or thinness of the ink depends on how much or how little you need to use. If the ink is too thick, it will be difficult to use the tip of the brush, which will glue up. If the ink is too thin, it will probably filter through the paper.

You may use prepared liquid Chinese ink to write Chinese characters during ordinary practice sessions. This form of ink is very convenient. If the ink is too thick, pour out a small amount from the ink bottle, add water and rub. Don't pour water into the bottle of prepared liquid ink. You will only spoil the glue, which will stink. In learning calligraphy it is best that you rub or grind the ink stick on the ink slad or ink stone. If you use prepared liquid ink you will not enter the art world. Rubbing or grinding the ink stick against the ink slab or ink stone prepares you for practicing handwriting. During the rubbing or grinding you have time to study the specimen of writing that you intend to copy. This will enable you to make better progress in the course of time. So whenever you can, rub or grind the ink stick against the ink stone yourself.

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