Ancient Ink Making and Its Use in Chinese Calligraphy: Process, Applications, and Preservation

Chinese ink making traditional process

Ink has played a pivotal role in Chinese history, particularly in the realms of literature, art, and culture. This article explores the traditional methods of making ink, its use in various scenarios, and the proper methods of preserving ink for longevity.

Ink Making Process: A Beautiful Transformation

Making ink in the traditional Chinese way is a laborious yet rewarding process that turns soot and animal glue into fine ink.

1. Collection of Soot: Soot is collected from oil lamps. The type of oil used in the lamp influences the color and texture of the final product.


2. Mixing Soot and Glue: The collected soot is carefully mixed with animal glue. The glue acts as a binder, turning the soot into a malleable paste.


3. Molding: The paste is then shaped into ink sticks by pressing it into molds. The molds often carry auspicious symbols or the name of the ink maker.


4. Drying: The ink sticks are then left to dry, which may take several weeks to months. The drying period depends on the size of the ink stick and the ambient conditions.

Applications: The Stroke of Genius

1. Calligraphy: Once the ink stick is ready, it is ground against an ink stone with a bit of water to create liquid ink. This ink is then used with a brush for traditional Chinese calligraphy. The thickness and darkness of the lines depend on the amount of water mixed with the ink.


2. Painting: Besides calligraphy, the ink is also used in traditional Chinese ink wash painting. The use of different shades of black ink helps create depth and texture in the artwork.


3. Seals: Traditional Chinese ink is also used to make impressions of seals, usually made of stone, which are essential for authenticating documents and artwork.

Preservation: A Lasting Legacy

Proper preservation of the ink stick ensures its longevity and quality.


1. Storage: Ink sticks should be stored in a dry place away from direct sunlight. Humidity and heat can degrade the quality of the ink.


2. Handling: Always handle the ink stick with clean, dry hands. Any moisture or oil on your hands can affect the quality of the ink.


3. Usage: When grinding the ink stick, do not use too much force, as it may damage the stick. Rinse the ink stone with water after every use to prevent the ink from drying and hardening on the stone.

Ink, as a medium, not only gave expression to thoughts and ideas but also embodied the spirit of traditional Chinese culture. By understanding the process of its creation and proper usage, we can appreciate its immense historical and cultural value.

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