I'm travelling into a new way of working, a new country, a new language, and a new hobby which I'm passionate about. Come with me for some of the journey...

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Beijing - Liulichang, The Artists' Quarter





It's travel time again at Words and Pictures today.

Normal crafty service will be resumed shortly - and it will be full creative steam ahead for a few days at that point.  But we're heading for Chinese craft supplies today!








There's no denying the Forbidden City was awe-inspiring and deeply impressive (catch Part I, Part II and Part III - the Emperor's private gardens, if you missed them) but my favourite place in Beijing was undoubtedly Liulichang - a long street (nearly a kilometre) full of shops selling calligraphy materials and other artsy supplies and artefacts.












And I do mean "full" - there are no other kinds of shops at all, barring the odd art gallery or glazing factory.  It's all arts and calligraphy supplies.










The stores range from huge emporia...
















... brilliantly decorated...















... to tiny little one room huts, packed to the rafters (and I do mean to the rafters) with brushes, ink stones, seals and wax.










I'm lucky in that my Danish aunt's brother is living with his family in Beijing at the moment  When his wife, Bettina, asked what I'd be interested in seeing, the answer was simple - art/calligraphy supplies and demonstrations, if possible.

On arrival in Beijing I had a quick shower and set out straight away to meet up with her.  (By the end of the day I'd gone 30 hours without sleep, but it was worth it!)









Fortunately, she's of a similar artistic mindset and was more than happy to spend several hours wandering in and out of endless stores comparing prices on brushes, brush stands, ink stones and rice paper.






As well as the art shops, we also stepped in to see inside some hutongs - the traditional alleyway dwellings of which there are just a few left in Beijing.  It didn't feel right taking photos of private homes, so I don't have pictures.

But if you imagine this courtyard with five or six small houses built inside it, housing up to eight families, you'll have some idea of how the hutongs work.










Liulichang is crossed by a main road at one point - this is the decorative footbridge which delivers you to the other side to continue your artsy journey.














In one of the larger shops, there was a tiny studio out back where at several desks, back to back, at least seven craftsmen and women were busy making brushes.  It was incredible to see them in action, so we asked whether it would be okay to take some photos.














The first man was taking the soaked animal hair and shaping it into the brush heads.  His hands were moving so fast you couldn't get a photo without them blurring.












The next man was holding fine twine between his teeth and using his hands to wrap it around the base of the brush heads to hold the bristles in place, several heads at a time to one piece of twine.

To his right was a man sorting them into sizes and the two women behind were fixing them into the handles - some of wood, some bamboo.












At the final stage, this man was adding calligraphy to the handles - sometimes carving it in, sometimes inking with gold or black ink.

Astonishing speed and dexterity from every single one of them to churn out brushes by the hundred.









I'm sure you're wondering whether, with all those riches and that crafsmanship on display, I bought anything...

Well, I knew before I went that I wanted one of the large size brushes if it was affordable, and thanks to some excellent haggling by Bettina I came away with rather more than that.












I have a large bundle of rice paper and a rather beautiful linen covered album.  Rather than separate pages, the whole thing opens out as a wonderful accordion (several metres long), so I'll have to come up with a way to make the most of that.















The white headed brushes are made of goat's hair (the large one's bristles are 4.5 inches long and nearly 2 inches in diameter), and the brown ones are wolf's hair (from the tails, as far as I can make out).













Inside the silk-covered box is a trio of exquisitely fine-headed rabbit hair brushes.  And the whole lot came in for around the £30 mark.  Colour me happy!  I only wish I'd bought a stand to hang them from too, as Bettina did.  Ah well... next time (I'm kidding!!).

Thank you for dropping in.  I hope you've enjoyed this little artistic detour as much as I did.  One of these days, I may even get to try out my beautiful Chinese brushes.  Next stop (some time)... Shanghai, but first there will be some new crafty creations to share with you.  Watch this space!






Calligraphy may well be simply an artistic version of another form, that is the ideograms which make up the poem, but then not only does it reflect the character and temperament of the artist but . . . also betrays his heart rate, his breathing.
From Once on a Moonlit Night by Dai Sijie

36 comments:

pearshapedcrafting said...

Seems as though you visited the perfect place - what an interesting time you had! Of course, how could you resist such beautiful items and the folding paged album sounds great! I love the box of fine tipped brushes especially! Hugs, Chrisx

sam21ski said...

OM Gosh, wow, those brushes are to die for - gorgeous xxx

Helen said...

wow,perfect for you! loved the glimpse into a totally different way of life, and how "fortunate" you were able to grab some bargains. the brushes look fantastic.

Lauren Hatwell said...

I have to say, I'm rather surprised you managed to tear yourself away. What a place! Thanks again for allowing us a glimpse of your travels. I've really enjoyed it. Lx

Amanda said...

What a way to shop, looks fabulous. Loving these travel post.
Love
Amanda x

brenda said...

Wow, all those brushes, what fabulous stores. Thanks so much for sharing more of the wonderful culture from that part of the world Alison.

B x

Nikki Acton said...

Fabulous to see these photos and hear about your arty adventures! My friend creates her art in accordion sketchbooks... Long drawings which she has then exhibited hanging from the ceiling! Xx

Inky and Quirky said...

Ooh I'd love to shop there, I have a thing for brushes too especially ones for my watercolours , loved looking at these pictures
Hugs
Donna xx

Brenda Brown said...

Oh I would have been in my element with you, although I don't practice calligraphy now I used to love teaching it when I was in the classroom (but using pens). Now brushes are my thing to collect and your haul looks amazing and fabulous value. The whole district must have been heavenly to explore xxx

carol edwards said...

Wonderful pictures again exploring other cultures and craftsman. Thank you for sharing.

sally said...

Now that is a shopping trip I wish I'd participated in!

Sally x

chrissie said...

Just playing catch-up with your posts Alison and looking at the wonders you have seen. Spectacular photographs to give us a taste of another place. So many shops selling the same sort of things must have been a sight to behold for sure and I am pleased you are bringing some back with you.

Enjoy everything.

Love Chrissie xx

Coco said...

What a wonderful visit you have done and gorgeous pictures shared with us Alison, love love your calligraphy set of brushes and other supplies, thank you for sharing!!! Coco xx

craftytrog said...

You lucky girl!!! What an amazing place to visit! Looking forward to seeing how you use that big brush Alison.
Alison xxx

Etsuko Noguchi said...

Great pics and love the art shops street. Wonderful your brushes, I have interest in your wolf's tails hair brush. I saw the pottery round ewer of penmanship for Sumi in your photo, these are lovely. Thank you for your great pics. xx

Hazel Agnew said...

Treasured memories, encompassed into art materials....perfection! Xx

Marci said...

Oh, fantastic photos! I love all of the brushes, I would have been there looking at them forever. In blue and white containers,too, how beautiful! Thank you for the post on this trip.

Marci said...

Oh, fantastic photos! I love all of the brushes, I would have been there looking at them forever. In blue and white containers,too, how beautiful! Thank you for the post on this trip.

Sandy said...

I don't think I could go nearly 30 hours without sleep! What heaven it must have been like to walk along Calligraphy Alley. The brushes are works of art all to themselves. I know if anyone can make a wonderful work of art from your newly purchased album you can. You know how the Chinese seem to favor the long scrolls with a continuous scene. I am so tickled for your Alison! Is there a chance you can get some food shots?
Sandy xx

Dorthe said...

What a lucky incident that your Danish family were there, for you to be shown around with a "soulsister" in loving these materials, Alison. They looks so wonderful all, and for that amount it is almost stealing, compared with Danish prices. The whole street filled with the same kind of materials, is fantastic, and so the houses , with 4-5 families having shops !!
The album you bought ans all looks so beautiful ! Congratulations for being able to have experienced all this !!
Dorthe, OX

suzyb said...

This trip of yours has been amazing! I have traveled there through your eyes and loved everything you have seen. MY favourite photo is all those brushes hanging in that shop! I now have it as a screen saver!!! lol
I thank you for sharing this trip with all of us and I truly have enjoyed every bit of it.
We have a tiny "Chinatown" here in Victoria, BC and they have a shop that sells art supplies, I must get down there and enjoy it again.
Sue
Victoria, BC

Lys Scrap said...

As you said, exquisite! Thanks for this beautiful journey!

Redanne said...

Oh wow Alison, I would have been in shopping heaven in that street of arty shops! The buildings are so beautiful and the brushes - they are exquisite and well done at getting them at such a bargain price! xxx

Paper Profusion said...

Gosh, I can imagine Bettina had to drag you from one shop to the next. Wonderful to see - thank-you for sharing. Your haul looks fabulous - everything will be treasured I'm sure. Nicola x

Astrid Maclean said...

Wowsers, you lucky, lucky girl, that must have been such a wonderful experience, and how fantastic to have a relative on hand to show you around! What an incredible place, and ok, I'll freely admit it, I am deeply, deeply jealous of that set of brushes!!! Can't wait to see what you will do with them!

mamablitger said...

Oh dear...how lovely that you share all these pictures and your story from your visit. Like Bettina I'm Danish and have been to China as well. We visited a hutong too and were lucky enough to be invited to join them for lunch. A fantastic experience. People in general seem to be very friendly and openminded.
Congrats on your great buys. It looks as if you really got some lovely stuff.....
Thanks again for sharing.
Hugs from Monica....
Spain

Inkypinkycraft said...

seems you are having some wonderful adventures xx love those gorgeous brushes and paper and am sure you will out them to good and creative use xx

Team Clark said...

Well how could you walk away without buying brushes!!! What a gorgeous collection you have now, and what fond memories will remain. Fabulous! And excited to hear that new creations will be forthcoming. Makes my day! Love your work dear, and love reading of your amazing life. Hugs, Autumn

Candy C said...

Hello Alison!! Oh my goodness!! You made quite a lovely haul of wonderful art brushes and so forth in Beijing! I was there two years ago but unfortunately did not have the luxury of a relative there who could get me to the fabulous art places. :) Good for you! I know you had a blast. Isn't Beijing a most interesting place? I adored all of our tours and learned quite a bit about the area.
I wanted to thank you for your lovely comments you've left on my blog. I always love hearing from you and always consider it such a huge compliment when you stop by. <3

Almo said...

I won't lie Alison I am sat here drooling over your new collection of brushes. What a lovely visit and what a fabulous bargain. Mo x

Sue said...

Wow what a fabulous place to visit, though I'm not sure I could stay awake for 30 hours. Those brushes are amazing, I would have to have 2 sets, one to use and one just to look at and stroke lol xx

Mrs.B said...

Sounds like you have been to shopping heaven and to be lucky to see them making the brushes, such an experience.
You certainly did well with your purchases and I look forward to seeing how you used the accordion album.
Avril xx

Craftyfield said...

Now that's what I call brush shopping! You'll have to explore their possibilities and report back... I brought back classic Chinese brushes from Hong Kong, also the main thing I wanted to shop for! One track mind...

Lynn Price said...

Wow, Alison!! What an incredible experience - thank you for all the wonderful photos and descriptions!! Looking forward to what those beautiful brushes produce - I will certainly have more respect for such things in the future given what I've learned from your post! xxx Lynn

Jenny Marples said...

Oh now that's a haul! It's fantastic to see them being made too. You mentioned one made of wolf's hair - I wonder if Sky is up to lending me some of her immense coat?!!! ;) xx

Jackie P Neal said...

Wow! So much fun in one 30 hour day! heehee Those brushes look amazing! Have you painted with them yet? Wait , don't tell me, I am far behind on my posts, so maybe up ahead I will learn more!!
I will say it again,thank you for bringing us along on your journey,Alison- remarkable indeed!! xoxo