The Wonders of Shodo and Washi

Japan is famous for the arts of kado (flower arrangement), sado (tea ceremony), kendo (fencing), budo (martial arts) and shodo (calligraphy), the suffix “do” meaning path. I first learned shodo in Japan, and found a teacher upon my return to continue studying at home. When she moved back to Japan several years ago I stopped practicing, something I didn’t realize I sorely missed until a recent workshop at The Nippon Club. This class was led by Sensei Mohri Suzuki from Japan, and its focus was the creation of a work featuring the kanji of your choice on washi, or Japanese paper.

Sensei emphasized the importance of proper posture by making sure to sit upright with both feet on the floor. With this, we were ready to dive into the two characters he had picked for us to practice. These were intentionally selected as together they cover eight essential calligraphy techniques, such as “tome” (full stop), “hane” (jumping), “ten” (dot) and “harai” (hook).  Sensei showed us how to grip the brush with our first three fingers, and urged us to keep our wrists straight and steady.   

We were given both tubes of liquid ink, ready to be used once poured into the dish, as well as an ink stone that could be ground with water to make ink. I opted to make my own ink, following Sensei’s instructions to put great care into preparation. In fact, he had put a small vase with a flower on each of our tables, saying that if you look at something beautiful while making ink it will enhance its color. With my brushes plentifully soaked in ink, I was ready to write.  Sure enough, the strokes soon came back to me like riding a bike.

After Sensei corrected my practice characters, I was ready to move onto my original work. I decided on “tabibito” or traveler, and thanks to Sensei’s sample I could see how to fit these two characters onto the smaller washi.  He advised that ink would run more on this delicate paper, which we  received two pieces of. I nervously gave it a go on each, producing different results despite using the same ink.  The more playful version won out, and Sensei adorned it with his red seal to indicate completion.  My classmates had chosen characters for family, laugh and wind, each work a wonderful combination of the authors’ unique strokes and washi’s distinct characteristics.

— Reported by Stacy Smith

The Nippon Club
145 W. 57th St., (bet. 6th & 7th Aves.), New York, NY 10019

Sensei Mohri Suzuki came from Japan to teach this special shodo class, and he highlighted the importance of posture and an uncluttered table before you begin writing.

I made ink by adding water and grinding the stick in circular motions.
Sensei used his red ink to correct my practice sheets.
Practicing “tabibito” before attempting to write on washi.
It was amazing how different each piece of washi was.

I was careful to write slowly on the washi to prevent runny ink, and was very happy with my creation!
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