Casey Shannon Studio Image

The Sound of One Hand: Reaching Beyond the limits of Traditional Ink Painting

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Making of Xuan

Xuan Paper

Photos and video by Henry Li. Text by Casey Shannon and Tai Oi Yee

Xuan paper is one of the 'Four Treasures of the Study' and highly regarded as a treasure by sumi (ink) artists. Xuan (Shuen) paper is very fine paper used by calligraphy and sumi-e artists. It is thin mulberry bark paper ( called Xuan paper in China and Washi paper in Japan).  It is also generically called "rice paper" in the west though rice is not one of the ingredients.   It is highly absorbent and unforgiving.  The brushstrokes have to be fluid and fast, and mistakes cannot be masked like on watercolor paper. Xuan Paper takes practice to use.

This paper is the brush painter's canvas. Mastering the way ink behaves on the different rice papers is one of the essential skills of the brush painter. There are basically two kinds of rice paper -- raw paper and sized paper. Shuen Paper (Xuan Paper) is raw paper and the most popular paper in China among brush painters and calligraphers. It is the most sensitive of the rice papers, cheerfully displaying dynamic strokes and complex shade variations with translucent fluidity and original spontaneity.  Any brush painter will tell you it is difficult to work with rice paper and takes years of practice to master.

Interesting fact: The reason Xuan Paper is called 'Rice Paper' in the West is because when the West came to the East, China wanted to protect it's paper making techniques and told Westerners that the paper was made from rice. 

 Mulberry Trees in Anhui, China
Quigtan Trees outside the paper mills.
Photo Courtesy of Henry Li

Xuan paper is made all by hand. There is no machinery used in the production of this treasured paper. For this reason, Xuan paper is very special and expensive.

My artist friend Henry Li recently went to China and visited the paper mill in Anhui, China. He filmed this very informative video of the paper being made in all the stages of creation. Enjoy!

  For more information on 'The Four Treasures' go: Here 

Director of North America Branch - ICCPS
International Chinese Calligraphy and Ink Painting Society

国際中国書法国画家協会アメリカ支部:Ms. Casey Shannon アメリカ現代水墨画家


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