Oriental Calligraphy and Painting: The 3 B's-Body, Breath and Brush 2nd ed


178 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations
ISBN 0-9693974-1-0
DDC 745.6'19956





Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson is Assistant Director of Libraries, University of
Saskatchewan; and Director, Saskatoon Gateway Plays, Regina Summer
Stage, and La Troupe du Jour.


Kodama has put into this book some 15 years of experience teaching
calligraphy and oriental brush painting to a group of Canadians in
Ottawa. She introduces the body of her text with a brief history of the
development of the Sumi-e brush painting from its oriental calligraphic
beginnings. This introduction is translated into 14 languages by some of
her students—an approach that is cute but adds little to the work,
since the instructions themselves are in English. Some text has been
translated for this edition into Chinese and Japanese, but these
sections are relegated to the end of the book instead of being
integrated with the English instructions, the graphic examples, and the
illustrations. An unfortunate decision and a surprising one since a lot
of thought obviously went into the page design, which is very clear and
generous in its use of white space.

The book’s subtitle clearly indicates Kodama’s approach: she
addresses the skills of both calligraphy and painting. Body position,
movement, and the period of breathing are treated first. They lead into
one of the best illustrations this reviewer has found of the ductus for
katakana and hiragana. Kodama naturally characterizes each “by the
breathing method”; breathing points and imaginary lines are indicated
as well as the final strokes that will appear on the rice paper.

The most difficult elements to render in a book are those of body
position and movement. The tiny schematics Kodama uses eventually make
sense as one progresses through the book (one wishes that the basic
exercises given in sections 7.1 to 7.3 had been presented earlier in the

The book’s second half, which is devoted to Sumi-e, is adequately
supported by the many graduated black-and-white illustrations.
Instructions on matching oriental and Roman letters to the objects to be
represented are particularly clear and useful. This consequently opens
up the possibility of “reading” the Sumi-e in an analytical way,
which promotes delight rather than frustration at the cultural barrier
to be surmounted.

The final section, which includes applications to watercolor and an
extensive set of illustrations of both Kodama’s work and that by Group
Yohaku members—would gain enormously with colored reproductions.
Photos of Group members and their Canadian exhibitions in Japan add a
personal note to the success of Kodama’s instruction. The admirable
level achieved by these Canadians, which was obviously appreciated by
their hosts, serves as graphic encouragement to those who would assay
this exquisite art.


Kodama, Tomoko., “Oriental Calligraphy and Painting: The 3 B's-Body, Breath and Brush 2nd ed,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/12736.