Ink comes in the form of sticks. It is made from natural products: soot from burnt pine branches and vegetable oil, mixed with animal glue. The mixture is mashed, cooked, kneaded, pressed into moulds and dried according to a recipe that dates back about 2,000 years. It has a very characteristic fragrance. Various substances can be added to improve the quality, fragrance or intensity of the ink. The ink dissolves on contact with water when ground on a stone with a dense grain.
The sticks are decorated with a variety of characters or motifs, gold or coloured, and antique inksticks are a collector’s item. Ink quality is determined by the density of the black and its colour (in shades that can range as far as purple), fragrance and lustre. Certain ancestral manufacturers have their own recipes and are very well known.
It is interesting to note that once applied to paper, this ink does not dissolve, even if the paper is dampened again. This is a valuable quality in mounting a piece of calligraphy since one of the steps involves moistening the paper before applying the liquid glue to attach the backing paper.
Bottled liquid ink, sold already prepared – mozhi – is very practical and the quality is satisfactory. However, some consider that the slow grinding of the ink stick on the stone and the fragrance that rises from it mentally prepare the calligrapher for his work. This preparation is a pleasure in itself, and also offers time for reflection.
Be care not to confuse Chinese ink with what is called “China ink” in the West, which cannot be used for calligraphy. China ink is a chemical product that is not suitable for rice paper and may also damage the Chinese brush.
© 2008-2016 Françoise Cloutier - All rights reserved. Last modification: 2016-02-17