Scholars wrote and composed the literature in a place called Mun Bang. The writing materials (also known as ‘treasures') meaning paper, writing brush, ink stick, ink stone and ink slab are called Mun Bang Sa Hwu.
The Writing Brush
In general, writing brushes are made of fur or whiskers, although the quality of the brush varies according to the time of year it was made. The handle is made of bamboo, but it was also made of gold or silver in ancient times.
Writing brushes are generally called Jang Bong, Jung Bong or Dan Bong, according to the length of the fur used, whilst Kyeom Ho is made using a mixture of soft and rough fur.
There are four qualities to look for in a good brush – sharpness (cheom), arrangement (jae), circle (weon) and steadiness (keon).
Paper, made from the Papyrus plant, originated in Egypt in 4000bc. Before paper was manufactured in China, the ancient Chinese used wooden pieces of ‘Kan’ which were trimmed to size, and the sap acted as the ink. After the writing brush was invented, silk was used.
There are two kinds of paper used for calligraphic work, known as ‘Seon Ji’ and ‘Dang Ji’.
Seon Ji, a soft Chinese paper, absorbs humidity well. Dang Ji means paper made from bamboo.
There is no record regarding the origins of ink stones, although the oldest ink slab in existence, known as ‘Weon Pan Seog Yeon’, dates back to the period of the emperor of Jin Si. Ink slabs are usually made from stone, but sometimes contain green jadeite, gold and silver. Ink sticks that are rubbed down are called Yeon Dang, Chinese ink placed inside an ink slab is called Yeon Ji.
A good quality ink slab doesn’t damage the writing brush, and is smooth. It is better to choose a solid and heavy ink slab so that it doesn’t shake when the ink stick is rubbed down it.
Today’s ink sticks are imported from China. The first ink sticks were made from the soot of pine trees, mixed with glue and coal, which become blue or red after some time has passed. Yu Yeon Muk is made from the soot of plant seeds and is very expensive. Most of the ink sticks used in Korea today are Yang Yeon Muk, which is made from carbon black or diesel oil, or lamp oil. In addition to these kinds of ink stick, there are also cinnabar sticks which are used for stone carving, or seal engraving.
A light ink stick is better for calligraphic work, with a smooth, polished surface. Old ink sticks become more solid, so it’s better to use ones which are newly made.