Four Treasures of the Study 文房四寶. The Brush 筆, Ink 墨, Paper 紙, and Inkstone 硯
Four Treasures of the Study (文房四寶), also known as Four Jewels of the Study or Four Friends of the Study, are different expressions of the four essential implements in Chinese Calligraphy: The brush (筆), ink (墨), paper (紙), and inkstone (硯). The term was first created by the literati during the period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589AD).
The ink brush is the most ancient of the Four Treasures. The body of the brush are usually made from bamboo, or special materials like silver, gold, jade, ivory or sandalwood. The head of the ink brush can be made from animal hair or feathers, such as white goat hair, black rabbit hair, yellow weasel hair, or a combination of these. Each type of hair has a different rigidity and ink capacity; each type of ink brush has a different shape and size, thus results in different appearance of the calligraphy styles.
To produce liquid ink from an inkstick, we need to slowly grind it mingled with water on the hard surface of an inkstone until the right consistency is achieved. Some better quality ink also mixes with powdered spices and herbs, or add aroma to make nice smell. They are often dedicatedly decorated with poems, patterns, or calligraphy, which makes them highly collectable.
The paper was one of the four great inventions of ancient China. Calligraphy and painting requires a special type of paper known as Xuan Paper, which is different from the paper we use today. This particular form is soft, fine-textured, moth resistant, has a high tensile strength with long service life. Paper type includes unprocessed, half-processed or processed. The processing dominantly determines the paper quality: unprocessed papers are absorbent and malleable, as processed papers are more resistant to absorption and are stiffer.
An inkstone is a ware for grinding and containment of ink. Add a small amount of water, and grind the end of the inkstick to produce ink on the flat surface of the inkstone. An inkstone is often designed with a water-holding cavity and water reservoir. The water on the other side of the water-holding cavity flows into the flat surface in time and become an ink reservoir as the ink is used. A good inkstone can be passed down generation after generation as a real treasure.