Ink brushes (simplified Chinese: 毛笔; traditional Chinese: 毛筆; pinyin: máo bǐ) are used in Chinese calligraphy. They are also used in Chinese painting and other brush painting styles. The brush was invented in China around 300 B.C. Together with the inkstone, inkstick and Xuan paper, these four writing implements form the Four Treasures of the Study.
Brushes differ greatly in terms of size, texture, material, and cost.
- Handle: usually of bamboo, exotic brushes may instead use such materials as gold, silver, jade, ivory, red sandalwood or spotted bamboo.
- Hair source: normally the brush is made from goat, Siberian weasel (黄鼠狼 huángshǔláng, yellow-rat-wolf), pig, mouse, buffalo, wolf, or rabbit hair, while exotic ones can be made from tiger, fowl, deer, and even human hair (from a baby's first haircut, said to bring good fortune while taking the imperial examinations).
- Hair texture: soft (軟毫 ruǎnháo), mixed (兼毫 jiānháo), or hard (硬毫 yìngháo) hair. Certain textures are better for writing some styles than are others.
- Hair size: generally classified as either big (大楷 dàkǎi), medium (中楷 zhōngkǎi), or small (小楷 xiǎokǎi); most calligraphy is written with a medium-sized brush. The smallest brushes are used for very small pieces and for fashioning designs for seals. While medium size brushes are the most widely used, wielded by a skilled artist a medium brush can produce a variety of thicknesses of line from very thin to fairly thick. The largest brushes are used only for very large pieces.
The brush hair chosen depends on one's needs at the moment; certain kinds of brushes are more suited to certain script styles and individuals than others. Synthetic hair is not traditionally used. Prices vary greatly depending on the quality of the brush; cheap brushes cost less than one US dollar while expensive brushes can cost more than a thousand dollars. Currently, the finest brushes are made in the town of Shanlian, in the Huzhou district, Zhejiang province.
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The earliest intact ink brush was found in 1954 in the tomb of a Chu citizen from the Warring States period (475-221 BCE) located in an archaeological dig site Zuo Gong Shan 15 near Changsha (長沙). The primitive version of an ink brush found had a wooden stalk and a bamboo tube securing the bundle of hair to the stalk. Legend wrongly credits the invention of the ink brush to the later Qin general Meng Tian.
Traces of the writing brush, however, were discovered on the Shang jades, and were suggested to be the grounds of the oracle bone inscriptions.
The Fudepen, also known as a "Brush Pen", is a modern Japanese invention analogous to a Fountain pen. Today, Japanese companies such as Pentel and Sakura Color Products Corporation manufacture pens with tips resembling those of a small ink brush. These brush pens work almost identically to small ink brushes and can be used for most of the same purposes.
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