Genue Inc.
October 28, 2015

Pattern Design Inspired by East Asian Calligraphy


Right now, we are obsessed with the art of calligraphy. This beautiful way of communicating is a step above writing, and requires so much skill, technique, and creativity that it is practically on par with painting.


In fact, calligraphy is often done with a brush and ink, occasionally making use of pens specifically designed for the craft.


In East Asia, calligraphy is especially revered (and in our opinion, especially beautiful!) China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam all have strong calligraphy traditions, and it has an important place in each culture.


The Chinese word for calligraphy can be translated as “the method or law of writing,” while in Japanese it reads “the principle of writing.” Calligraphy is translated in Vietnamese as “the way of words,” and Korean reads as “the art of writing.” Beautiful!


In order to create calligraphy, you need the right tools. Traditional East Asian technique requires the “Four Treasures of Study.” They are the brush you are writing with, an ink stone to grind the ink into its proper form, the ink itself, and special paper.


The look of the letters crafted by the calligrapher depends not only on skill, but also on the size and shape of the ink brush, as well as the kind of hair it is made with, the color and density of the ink, and the paper’s absorption and surface texture.


The design possibilities are endless: bold strokes, thin and delicate lines, a smooth or textured hand, fluid or constrained styles. This makes for lovely and distinct mark making.


East Asian written languages look beautiful to begin with, made even more so when written in such a special way. Westerners, who are unfamiliar with these languages however, might need a bit of a lesson in telling in telling them apart.


For example, Korean’s alphabet is called Hangul, and the letters are primarily made up of neat circles, ovals and straight lines. In fact, the circular components of the written language caused Korean calligraphers to come up with a specific technique to make their marks, which can be confusing to Chinese calligraphers.


This is because Chinese is made up of complex characters called hanzi. These characters are created with many straight lines, with only occasional curve or flourish- very different!

Japanese writing includes three parts: kanji, katakana and hiragana. Katakana is often made up of neat, slightly curved or straight lines, while hiragana characters are built from elegant curves and curls.


Calligraphy writing in Asia has had a huge influence on the art of these cultures. Ink and wash painting is an artistic style rooted in China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam. This type of brush painting was inspired entirely by calligraphy and the beautiful form of Asian alphabets. The art utilizes the same inks used for calligraphy, applying various tones and brush strokes to create an image.


If East Asian writing and calligraphy can inspire en entire art movement, then it can be an inspirational source for prints and patterns!


Take care though- simply throwing some kanji into a print runs the risk of awkward, inaccurate translations (think poorly planned-out tattoos), and can potentially be an offensive form of cultural appropriation.


Instead, get a bit more creative, and think very carefully about what components of your source you find beautiful and why.


Are you attracted to certain shapes and lines?

Would you like to try your hand with ink?

Perhaps you found a nice translation of a story or poem written in Chinese, and are drawn to the message in that.


And of course, when pulling inspiration from another culture, always (accurately!) credit your source.



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