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Process of Practicing Handwriting

The effective, traditional process of practicing handwriting consists of three steps: mo, Lin and xie. Mo means tracing. There are two ways to trace: Trace the calligraphy printed in red in the copybook, or use the model in the exercise book to trace the character on semitransparent or transparent paper. Mo means to practice wielding the brush. You must acquaint yourself with the process of basic stroke writing and the order in which you write your strokes. In practice, attention should be focused on the strokes of your model, the structure and the style of calligraphy. This lays the foundation for the next step, Lin, which is to put the model on the desk for you to copy. Deng Sanmu (1898-1963), a calligrapher, cautioned against tracing the model characters slavishly. You must study the structure of the character. Study the way it is written. Study the characteristics of the structure. In this way you will have some idea about writing it before you take up the brush. Mere copying without thinking leads nowhere. After a few months of study, proceed with the next step-lin xie.

Lin xie means that you have before you a specimen of writing-inscription on a stone tablet, etc. There are two steps in /in xie. You have before you a specimen of writing, then you make a copy of the specimen on paper with squares. You use this new copy as the model and copy the characters from it on paper also with squares. This is the first step of /in xie. After copying you compare the copied strokes with those in the model to see whether the positions of the former strokes are similar to those of the latter ones in the squares. This will make you acquaint with the characteristics of the form and structure of the characters.

The second step is to study the specimen, trying to memorize the strokes, then take it away. At first you may be able to memorize only a few characters. Later you may memorize the entire specimen of writing. Now study the specimen again. Compare your own work with the specimen. This is a basic skill in calligraphy. Guo Moruo (1892-1978), a calligrapher, remarked that he could still remember every stroke in the calligraphy of Wang Xizhi in the preface to The Literary Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion, even though Guo was already over eighty years of age.

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