Four Treasures of the Study
Huangshan's most famous product for centuries has been the Four Treasures of the Study. The Four Treasures refer to brush-pens (paintbrushes), ink sticks, ink stones, and paper that are traditionally used to create not only artwork but also for daily writing purposes.
Now the ball-point pen has become widely used for convenience's sake, but traditionally all writing either official, or simple correspondence was done with hand-ground ink and a brush pen, which is the Chinese style paintbrush. The Huangshan area has been famous for making the best art supplies in the country for thousands of years and continues to do so.
The Xuan Brush-pen is made in Jingxian County near Huangshan in Anhui Province. It is known as Xuan Brush-pen because, in ancient times, Jingxian County was a part of Xuanzhou prefecture, hence the name. Xuan Brush Pen was originally created during the Jin Dynasty (256-410). Being the best brushes made in China at the time, they became particularly popular with scholars and officials.
It was not until the Tang Dynasty (618-907) that the area became a large-scale brush manufacturing center, and the Xuan Brush-pens were listed as a tribute to be sent to the Emperor every year. The best Xuan Brush-pens are made from brown rabbit hair, which is very expensive, but the quality is unmatched. The rabbit hair brushes hold ink extremely well and allow the ink to flow smoothly onto the paper. It is a dream of many artists to own a Xuan brown rabbit hair brush pen.
Traditionally, when an artist wanted to create a painting, or a person wanted to write, they needed to first create ink. This was done with the use of an Inkstick, and Inkstone. A little water was added to the Inkstone, and an ink stick was ground until the desired ink consistency was reached. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in Anhui Province's Shezhou Prefecture, the first She Inkstones were produced and named after the prefecture.
She Inkstone has been one of the most sought-after items among China's literati for thousands of years. The stones used in manufacturing She Inkstones come in a variety of colors including grey, light green, and black. What makes She Inkstones so sought after is their ability to grind ink quickly, yet are extremely smooth so that the brush-pens are not worn down by use. Another aspect that makes them desirable is the beauty of the stones themselves. Many of the most expensive stones are not intricately carved, but simply designed to allow the natural beauty of the stones to shine through.
Traditionally when Chinese people wanted to write, or paint, they used Inksticks. The ink did not come in liquid form, but in a hardened stick that needed to be ground on an Inkstone to produce ink. The best Inksticks were produced in what was called Huizhou during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), hence the name Hui Inksticks. An ink stick is made from pine soot, lard, vegetable oils, musk, and many other ingredients. The recipes are closely guarded secrets. Because the pork lard can rot the secret mixture of musk and other ingredients that were used to keep the ink from spoiling, allowing the Inksticks to last thousands of years.
The natural pigments create an ink that will not fade even after thousands of years. Inksticks are made in innumerable different shapes and sizes. A good inkstick is very finely grained with a smooth texture, has a pleasant aroma due to the musk used in its production, and the colors painted onto the ink stick should not have run or sloppily applied. Cheap inksticks do not have a fragrance, and the colors are poorly applied.
Xuan Paper is the best artist's paper for both calligraphy and painting in China. It is produced in Jingxian County near Huangshan, Anhui Province. Normally known as rice paper by Westerners, Xuan Paper is very complicated to make. Its production involves over 100 procedures, and to produce a single sheet of paper takes almost one year. Because of its manufacturing techniques, Xuan Paper resists worms and aging. Xuan Paper is often called Imperial Paper because it not only can last over a thousand years but was also given as a tribute to China's Emperors. It is smooth, yet can absorb ink well.
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