Calligraphy has long been a practised, artistic form of writing that marks it separately from ordinary handwriting. Various forms can be found all across the world from many different time periods, and despite their differences in language and some forms, all use beautifully crafted lettering to present words as a form of visual art. It’s still a widely practised art today, with techniques that have changed with the eras and traditions that remain part of its identity. It’s also not lost on modern typefaces and graphic design, with elements crossing over between the two.
Korea has an equally long history with calligraphy (or Seoye in Korean), one that first derived from Chinese Hanja. In the early period of Korea, perhaps even in the 2nd or 3rd century, there was no Hangul. The current day Korean alphabet would not appear until King Sejong’s rule in the 15th century., thus Chinese characters were prevalent. Not only this, but the art of writing artistically in this manner didn’t become popular until the 8th century. Some of the earliest known masters of calligraphy in Korean were Kim Saeng, and later Choe Chiwon. Hailing from the kingdom of Silla, the name given to the Korean peninsula at the time, Choe Chiwon also found popularity within the Tang dynasty back in China.
Perhaps the most well known Korean calligrapher, however, is Kim Junghee. He is said to have revolutionised the art form by creating what is called the chusa style. It was asymmetrical, filled with powerful strokes that made it stand out from others work. It’s still used to this day.
There are five main types of script within Korean calligraphy, each of which denotes the style of the writing. Jeonseo script is the seal script. Choseo is a cursive script. Haeseo means a block script. Haengseo is a semi-cursive script. And finally, there is Yeseo, which is the official script. Each of these is drawn using specialist calligraphy brushes onto soft, almost tissue like paper called hanji. An ink stick and ink stone are also used. The stick is ground onto the stone, and from there the brush is dipped in. These four main elements are called munbangsawoo. Of course, this is for the most traditional sense of Korean calligraphy. More modern styles can be done with ink pens. These days, both hanja and hangul are used when writing too.
There are plenty of places where you can try out the traditional method of Korean calligraphy. KCC UK’s K-Pop Academy has held classes for its students to test their brush skills, and there have been many other events were participants and turn their hand to ink and paper. For as old an art form as it is, there’s a very simple, calming nature to the long strokes of a brush forming words that has allowed it to continue on for thousands of years, and hopefully even more to come.
Have you ever given calligraphy a go? Let us know how well it went in the comments below, or take a look at our upcoming events to see when you can next try.