deng character by zettl

just two characters

youtube and two old stories

I uploaded a new video on youtube, it’s about my calligraphy. Well, in the broadest sense – from traditional to asemic and painted calligraphy.

I had planned to set up a channel on youtube for a long time and discussed it with my son, who strongly advised against it. Among other things, because no one would be interested in my work. Which he’s basically right about, but since I didn’t have anything else to do 😊, I tackled the project anyway. [1]

two “jobs”

And what happened? Meanwhile, I was asked if I could write Chinese characters for a book project. This I did. It was an “asap job”, not what I really like, because calligraphy is a much more complex thing than most people imagine. “It’s just a few lines” one might think. The spectrum ranges from the right ink, the right paper, the most suitable brush, and above all the right construction. The editor of the book, a Chinese lady, didn’t want something too traditional – and therefore boring in her eyes – and that’s how it came out.

Both characters 候 (hou) and 等 (deng) can mean: wait. Technically, the characters tie in with the tradition of calligraphy by the Zen masters, who often used large brushes made of straw to calligraph. As far as aesthetics go, I brought the look of nori sheets into play (海苔, のり or ノリ). The customer is enthusiastic and asked me if I could contribute some of my paintings to another book project. It is about poems by a German poet who used to be important but is now rather antiquated. 24 poems, 24 illustrations. I’m not sure if I want to do that, but one thing tempts me: the editor is Chinese and asked me, an Austrian if I would calligraph or paint the necessary artwork for books that will be published in China. This is globalization 😊

an earlier project

I don’t think too much of my calligraphy art myself, I practice it for other important reasons which I have already written about. On the other hand, there is hardly anyone here in Europe who has penetrated the world of calligraphy as far as I have. However I have a certain reputation as a calligrapher here, and that was mainly because of one thing. Many years ago Prof. Kaminski wrote a book about the first Austrian ambassador to China, Arthur von Rosthorn [2]. In many respects, he was a very remarkable personality. Among other things, he commented on the Boxer Rebellion with the words: “If I were Chinese, I would be a boxer“.
Now I was asked to write this sentence in Chinese calligraphy, I put some effort into it and what was originally supposed to be printed in the book ended up on the cover. [3]

zettl calligraphy as cover for a book by gerd kaminski and else unterrieder

photo arthur von rosthorn and crew
Arthur von Rosthorn, his wife Paula, other Austrian diplomats, and military or embassy staff c. 1900

Now there is the following story: When the book was presented at a reception, the Chinese cultural attaché asked his interlocutor who among the Chinese here wrote this fine calligraphy? (Austria is very small, basically, everyone knows everyone 😊). “It was not written by a Chinese, but by an Austrian”. “Never ever”. So there was a bet (supposedly a crate of beer, but I’m not so sure if that part of the story is true, otherwise a crate of beer was a popular wager at the time). In any case, the rumor has been that I’m a good calligrapher and so I’m asked from time to time to do some calligraphy for a publication.

about a brush

I would like to tell the 2nd story in connection with the use of brushes. Not only did this have a great influence on me, but it also helped me to be more careful with hasty opinions and to understand that there is always something to learn.

During my time at the Academy in Beijing, painters were occasionally invited: to paint or lecture, something I always looked forward to. Then a painter came, I don’t even remember his name anymore, and gave an incredibly boring, meaningless lecture, and even my Chinese colleagues agreed that it was a waste of time. And yet: he told of something that made me (as an ignorant newcomer at the time) shake my head inwardly: it had taken him years to achieve the same effect with a brush made of sheep’s hair as with a brush made of wolf’s hair.[3]

On the other hand, it took me years not to rate this sentence as gibberish, but to grasp its deep meaning and incorporate it into my work. Specifically, in the calligraphy shown above, I used a sheep’s hair brush and achieved the effect of a coarse straw brush. It was made possible by using the “thirsty brush” (渴笔 ke bi) technique, i.e. keeping the level of moisture very low. Although this makes it difficult to control the line quality, it leads to the desired result.

Now I’ve finished the youtube channel for the time being and I hope not to lose interest too quickly and upload new videos from time to time.

Little extra

Since I recently presented my work with dried flowers, this picture goes well with it. Dried Ginko leaves were glued onto a painting surface and a Chinese poem from the Ming Dynasty was then written over it. Or rather painted, because the characters were meticulously added with a small brush and that has nothing to do with real calligraphy.

zettl calligraphy on ginko leaves

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[1] I was more concerned with having something like catalogs of my work on hand that I can show anyone who is interested. It seems to me that most would rather watch a short video than flip through an online catalog.
[2] Arthur von Rosthorn (1862, Vienna – 1945, Oed) was an Austrian diplomat and sinologist.

[3] Gerd Kaminski, Else Unterrieder: Wäre ich Chinese, so wäre ich Boxer”. Europaverlag Wien, Zürich, 1989
[4] There are a plethora of different Chinese brushes, not only in terms of their size but most importantly what hair they are made of. Depending on which they are used to paint certain objects.

related: two book covers and one dragon


17 responses to “just two characters”

  1. mic avatar


    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you!

  2. swabby429 avatar

    Your YouTube channel might become more successful than you anticipate. There is a sizeable audience for videos of this type. At any rate, I admire your level of ambition.

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you very much! I don’t know – let’s see. Sooner or later all efforts pay off in one way or the other. At least I hope so 🙂

  3. Nancy Richy avatar

    Still having trouble locating your “like” button (seems to be buffering) but still liking your work nonetheless! 👍🏼

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you very much 💕! I asked tech about that – maybe a Google Chrome thing….

      1. Nancy Richy avatar

        WordPress gremlins. They walk among us!

      2. Zettl Friedrich avatar

        🤖🙈 definitely!

  4. luisa zambrotta avatar

    Your video on YouTube is great:I subscribed to your channel 💙💙💙

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you so much! But don’t expect too much, I need to paint them first 😄

      1. luisa zambrotta avatar

        There is no need to be in a hurry: it is not the quantity that determines the quality❣️

  5. Rose Kern avatar
    Rose Kern

    Friedrich,I am a happy owner of one of your leaf poems calligraphy, and again a great story about the 2 characters.never stop youtube…..

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you so much, Rose! Still learning and trying….

  6. Rosaliene Bacchus avatar

    Congrats on your stellar achievements as a Chinese calligrapher! I enjoyed watching your Chinese Calligraphy video. Mesmerizing images. The color images–depicted on the timeline 1:41 to 2:16–are my favorites.

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you very much for your kind comment! I also like them. They are hard to do and it needs much concentration. So these are done in the morning hours when the mind is still fresh.

  7. gwengrant avatar

    Interesting and beautiful.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you, Gewn, for your kind words!

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