When in a foreign country, try their calligraphy

안녕하세요! 캘리그라피 클럽이예요? (“Hi there! Is this the calligraphy club?”)

For more reasons than one, an all-around calligraphy club in Korea just around the time I wanted to learn traditional Eastern and Western styles was nothing short of really convenient.

It was one dinner in the cafeteria when my friends pointed to me a nondescript poster some tables away. By that point we were already settled and well in the university, going about our usual activities with a growing sense of monotony that usually comes with finding your place in the flow of things. But it was there, the simple words “Calligraphy club” written in big, ornate Gothic letters, clear as day, and in English nonetheless, as if to beckon towards me in a friendlier, more familiar way.

I attended calligraphy club for the first time last week after the midterm bustle that took the entire student body by (an energy drink and ramyeon-powered) storm.

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As soon as club started, I was told right away there was going to be an exhibit the following week. Paper was passed around, and everybody got to work. Their president, a very friendly and jolly girl my age named Seulbi (who had gone on exchange in the Philippines for three weeks the semester prior), lent me her pens and introduced me to Korean calligraphy.

 

From what I learned, it’s meant to be very freestyle. Unlike Western calligraphy forms which focus greatly on the appearance of each letter, Korean calligraphy takes after its Chinese predecessor in terms of showing expression through the brush, with aesthetic value merely following when the work was done. Movement in calligraphy is seen through the kinds of stokes made (fast or slow), while the composition of its characters (crowded or widely spaced, balanced or not) determines its over-all beauty.

Korean calligraphy can have both Hangul and the occasional Hanja (Chinese) characters in the mix. Compared to the latter, Hangul characters are described to be simpler yet strong.

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Some works by our club president, Seulbi, grabbed from her Instagram

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Besides practicing discipline in laying them out on paper, another ruling principle is for emphasizing characters with batchim, or consonants, at the end. In a previous post, I’ve mentioned how Hangul is made up of blocks or characters representing syllables made up of 1-4 letters. All you have to do is to make sure blocks with batchim (ㄱ, ㄴ, ㅂ, ㅈ, ㄷ, ㅅ, etc.) are bigger than those without, and to of course, find your own style as you go.

 

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Today we set up a booth displaying a number of our works for a sort of fair introducing the university’s clubs. I’m not new to these sorts of things, but it still felt great to have found a niche here where I could be free to share my work within the short period of my stay.

It was also amazing to have taken part in showcasing the works of people I barely knew because I believe you can learn so much about a person just by seeing their art. Still, there’s much to learn from my clubmates, and I intend to learn as much of it with the rest of the semester ahead of me.

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What was at first a very anxiety-inducing experience turned out to be not so bad after all. I didn’t have to worry so much about not being fluent in Korean. I found I shared quite a number of things in common (K-Pop!) the longer I was with them, even though language was not one of them. While it was initially a challenge trying to learn a new craft through a language barrier, that only served to test my skill and develop in me a deeper sense of empathy for a foreign tradition graciously being opened up to me. Practicing a craft together goes beyond understanding what the other is saying and letting your shared love for it do the talking.

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Love and light always,

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