IN THE BEGINNING
It all started with the brush ring. It was a beautiful fine jewellery piece made with rhodium-plated 18-carat white and yellow gold and hand-engraved with my initials and our motto (Somnia mea omnia effeci et adhuc somnio) – and a spray of badger hair in the shape of a fan. It was a concession to the fact that I will never have my own beard to stroke and to aid the philosophical pondering process while creating my own work. My husband created the brush ring for my birthday in collaboration with a Hatton Garden jeweller and 3D printer - we love to combine the ancient with the modern in our work and do not hesitate to use cutting-edge technology in combination with time-honoured traditional craft skills in order to produce true objects of beauty. However, the rise of mass-production and automation has led to an emphasis on the cheap and throwaway. We are excited about our culture's shift in the opposite direction. Although we live in a fast-paced digital world where things can vanish without a trace, we feel that with the current craft renaissance there is a return to the physical realm; tangible books and solid objets d'art and paintings with soul. The simple act of drawing a line leaves your trace in the real world; a record of your hand on the page and the dried liquid mark of the maker which is unique in space and time.
Parallel to this I had been struggling to find the perfect paintbrush for rendering in my miniature painting. Ergo after much thought, and many brush ring strokes on the chin later, I created my own. Miniature painting technique is rigorous and demanding. Frustrated with constantly having to reload my old watercolour brushes, and not wanting to continually disturb my painting flow, I designed one that could hold the paint longer in its body while still maintaining its fine tip. I was constantly having to dip my brush into the paint, paint off the excess, and then finally apply the brush with the right amount to my painting. By the time I did so, half the paint in the bristles was already dry and then I would have to repeat the action only a few seconds later. Since the rendering in miniature paintings takes ages, and the rocks (and beards, which I also love to paint) are among the most time-consuming elements to render, I designed this brush with slightly longer bristles to hold more paint - not so long that it becomes unwieldy to handle, nor needing a learning curve like liner brushes for calligraphy and lettering, yet neither so short like standard watercolour brushes which involve recurrent dipping, which interrupts my flow.
Sturdy yet delicate. Beautiful and useful. I wanted to own beautiful and luxurious tools and accessories dedicated specifically to miniature painting, so I created beautiful brushes to inspire me to paint and to continually motivate me while painting. I could continue to make beautiful things by having beautiful tools to use. That way, I would gain even more pleasure from painting, even from the 'boring bits' of painting. Painting is not all fun and games. Some of it is hard work, a lot of it is preparation and the majority of the rendering stage is consistent, accurate repetition. But I am not a monk. I needed to be continually inspired during the process of painting as well as before I started a new piece. I wanted to wake up every morning and gaze at my desk, fawn over my beautiful tools and be so inspired to pick them up and then use them to make the paintings I desired. An exercise in self-motivation, because the first stroke is the hardest.
So we decided to create beautiful things for philosopher kings. We believe that being surrounded by beautiful things creates a sense of order in one’s life and trains one’s thoughts onto higher planes. We are not minimalists and do not believe in sensory deprivation. We are visual, we love the tactile and we love to engage all our senses. Although we respect them deeply, we are not monks. The simple majesty of using beautiful tools and accessories in one’s everyday work is what motivates us to continue to create.
We are the first company in the world to create luxe tools and accessories for miniature painting. We have several phases in our inventory of thoughtful products for the thinking painter. In its current iteration we are designing specialist brushes for miniature painting. Presently we are focused on specific areas such as rocks, clouds, water and fire.
So it starts with the Brushes, and we are excited. In the meantime, while we love and believe in painting more than anything else, we are expanding our vision to create our version of treasures for the modern scholar's studio - the ideal library, if you will - so please do visit us again and again to see what's new, and sign up to be the first to recieve our latest news here ~
ON THE FOUR TREASURES
On the Four Treasures 文房四寶
A Chinese expression originating from the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589 AD), the Four Treasures, Jewels, or Friends of the Scholar’s Studio are the Brush, the Ink, the Paper and the Inkstone. We would go so far as to say they are the Four Essential Indispensibles of the Studio – without them, one cannot work. We should aspire to be like the archetypal Scholar, a member of the literati, a highly literate, cultivated and refined individual and the interior of our studio should reflect this. On our desk are placed the essential tools of our trade, without which we cannot work, be it painting, composing poetry or writing a treatise (in China, calligraphy and painting go hand-in-hand).
Of course, we start with that oldest treasure of all, the Brush (毛筆; mao bi). The archaeological record dates it back to the Zhou dynasty (1045-256 BC). There is no one brush to rival all brushes; different brushes are needed to create different parts of the painting. The One Brush to rule them all is possibly not a even a brush but a polished mirror reflecting the world both seen and unseen.
Next comes the ink stick; soot, spices and other aromatics are powdered and reformed, painted with poetry or landscape scenes and transformed into objects of beauty in themselves (as all good Treasures must be). Spices create scent and provide protection to the ink itself; they can be thought of as talismanic objects in some ways related to Chinese medicine.
Paper, the third Treasure, needs no introduction. Famously invented by the Chinese, it comes in various forms and sizes with different levels of absorption. The painting or writing surface can also be silk or bamboo fibre; there are special papers in existence whose longevity is said to last 1,000 years.
The final Treasure is the Inkstone. When ground with water it produces the liquid black ink, which at its palest is a translucent wash of the softest dawn grey and at its darkest is the strongest, most powerfully permanent night black. Not coincidentally is it a stone; stones and rocks have a long and well-loved history in the Chinese studio in the form of Scholar’s Rocks – naturally occurring, curiously shaped rocks inviting the scholar to contemplate the passing of time and the boundless aeons which shaped their creation.
The Chinese love things that come in fours. There are, however, other Treasures. There is the brush holder, the paperweight, the rinsing pot, the seal. There is the seal ink, there are the Scholar’s Rocks and there are the beautiful, colourful pigments which are, at times, semi-precious gemstones in themselves. We would add a puzzle, a physical game of some sort to occupy one's hands as a refreshing break, an ostrich egg - the world's largest single cell - some turtles and a teapot ~
ON THE PHILOSOPHER KINGS
Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one... cities will never have rest from their evils - Plato's Republic (Book V)
Plato believed that "philosophers [must] become kings…or those now called kings [must]…genuinely and adequately philosophize" (The Republic, 5.473d).
We, too, believe that all Kings should be Philosophers and all Philosophers should be Kings.
Since philosophy is the love of knowledge and wisdom, we start by aspiring to be philosophers. In the manner of the ideal Scholar, we train our thoughts onto higher planes through work, study and play (yes, there is a point to doodling). In order to work, we need tools. And we need those tools to be beautiful. And although not all of us will become kings, we should all aspire to become Masters - masters of our own art, of our own lives, and ultimately, of ourselves. Knowing ourselves allows us to reign over the myriad outcomes of our fate. To be a king is a way of saying we are the highest in command, in charge of the way our destiny plays out, taking full control - and responsibility - over our own actions and choices. By becoming rulers of our own existence we choose our own paths, live rich, meaningful, fulfilling lives and, hopefully, become better people. Lofty, indeed. Idealistic, perhaps. Powerful and necessary - absolutely.
Thus we believe that making art is an empowering process - since we all hold the potential for creation in our hands we do not take this lightly. While science and technology race ever faster ahead, art and the humanities remind us of morality. Mortality and morality. We bring you thoughtful, thoroughly designed and carefully handmade tools with which to make your own creations. We believe that being surrounded by beautiful things creates a sense of order in one’s life and trains one’s thoughts onto higher planes - onto the eternal and unchangeable. We access those truths through the medium of art. Beauty leads to magnificence of mind, elegance to timelessness and grace to magnanimity. We are not minimalists and do not believe in sensory deprivation. We are visual, we love the tactile and we love to engage all our senses. Although we respect them deeply, we are not monks. The simple majesty of using beautiful tools and accessories in one’s everyday work is what motivates us to continue to do our very best.
We pay attention to the small details - if we are to rule our ships we must pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to our craft. Every part is carefully considered and has a role, from the choice of hair to the choice of ferrule to the raw wood handle which is light and easy to hold in one's hands, allowing for certain grip. The tiniest hair is held steadily alongside the largest since without it, the brush would not function. Everything has a place. We would like more politicians and Heads of State to take up painting, and through doing so, have better ideas. The appreciation of art refocuses one's values. We would like to see how crafting art enriches statecraft. We wish that our small contribution can help to make the world beautiful again.
In this manner we believe that - with small brushstrokes at a time - art can change the world and that is why we create beautiful things for philosopher kings ~
What is luxury?
Luxury is fine silk, fast cars and smooth cigars. Luxury is new experiences, the latest technology and old wine. Luxury is bespoke goods, personalised items and tailored things. Luxury is plush leather, lush fur and good hair. Luxury is worldwide shipping, local manufacturers and cottage industries. Luxury is fast internet access, timely arrivals and slow painting. Luxury is new tools, old manuscripts and ancient venerable traditions. Luxury is gold leaf, real pigments and handmade brushes. Luxury is all of these things and more.
Luxury is also simplicity - materials that are true to themselves, unpretentious and quietly proud of their origins. The simple lathe-turned wood, still raw, remembers its grain and its roots as a tree. The humble metal ferrule, cold at first, warms to the touch as the hand of the painter gets into the flow. A single feather, shed when no longer needed, finds a new home.
Luxury today is time. Time taken to think, design and create. Time taken to make things. Time taken to use things, appreciate things and properly look after things. Pondering a problem, then testing a design over and over again. Rendering fine strokes repetitively; painting as a form of meditation. Carefully cleaning a brush and ensuring its tip stays pointed while giving it time overnight to dry out. Placing it back deliberately on one's tidy desk where it takes pride of place, ready for the next painting session.
Gorgeous flamboyance, or deceptive simplicity. The latest technology, or rare raw materials. Luxury fits like a glove and is the perfect tool for the job. Both ancient and modern, luxury is whatever you never knew you always wanted.
Luxury is a little brush, dedicated to a single craft, channeling ancient masters and distilled into a fine tip of hair from the winter coat of small animal living on the steppes of Siberia ~
ON THE ANIMAL
Leather, Fur and Hair
Leather, fur and hair - all things, that as artisans of fine brushes and tools, are within our realm. All things that remember that they were once animal.
Leather remembers. It demands, quite rightly, respect: it once was alive and it wants you to know that. It is skin, after all - it longs to be touched, caressed and loved. The oil from one's skin softens leather over time. We create leather accessories that beg to be held, skin on skin, day in and day out. While we mostly believe that fur coats look best on animals, we recognise and respect the long and ritualistic traditions across the world, from Native Americans to Siberian shamans to sable-wearing Byzantine priests of yore... inhabiting the qualities of animals; becoming animal by wearing their skin. We remember the wild, the savage, the feral. We think of ancestral voices prophesying, of flashing eyes and floating hair, of the sacred unspoken connection between human and non-human. Try as we might to distance ourselves, engrossed in our civilisation, we are never really far away from looming nature, be it mighty uncontrollable weather or untamed chimaeras of the mind. There is a place for ancient beating drums in our hearts. We are all animals. Our artistic heritage started in caves. The trance dances of the shamans involve leather, fur and hair and it is at this edge, between life and death, between human and animal that our most archaic beliefs are revealed. Fear, magic, life, death, the explained, the unexplained, the mysterious, the timeless: the wise old shaman wears his animal skin and beats his leather drum to a tune that only he hears. He calls to his spirit animal; he becomes his spirit animal. Instinct is honed; the bond is formed.
Brushes remember. Like shamans, they were born to dance. Our brushes are made from the most superior of all animal hair - the finest sable from the cold, quiet borderlands where Russia meets China. They remember that they once were tails; a kind of fifth limb, alert, alive and acutely sensitive to the world around them. Like martens and weasels, they want to dart across pages, flick with joy and make magic. They ask to be used, to move around, to be kept animate. The artist learns how to use the brush; the brush learns how to be used by the artist. Left alone for too long, it returns to its roots, bending to the will of no man. True animal hair will always keep a spring in its step; this is its inherent beauty and why it is so sought-after among artists. But a brush can be tamed: with constant use, it eventually softens and moulds to the hand of the painter, bowing only to the one that trained it and, used to its master, answering only to them. Yet it is no slave - it never fully surrenders, it remembers its wild origins and kowtows to its master only after some effort - so this is a meeting of equals. Instinct, honed; the bond, formed. In time, the brush becomes one with the hand of the painter, melting into a final unison where hand follows mind. It yields and flies in formation. Yoked and ready, it executes its strokes deftly and with precision, wordlessly listening, through feeling alone, to the images from the heart.
We must find joy in our tools, paint with alacrity and remember the animal, always ~
A BRUSH FROM BABY'S FIRST HAIR
It's an old Chinese tradition dating from the Tang dynasty to make calligraphy brushes (胎毛笔tai mao bi) from a baby's newborn hair - only the first, uncut hair can be used as it still has its natural taper. Cut it, and it becomes useless. When the child turns 3, a ritual is performed in which the brush is softly brushed over their sensory organs to stimulate and awaken their 5 senses - like a gentle introduction to the world through touch. In ancient China, where the written word held supreme importance, the baby hair calligraphy brush was then given to the child when s/he grew older in the hope that it would bring good luck in passing imperial examinations. Throughout childhood, the brush would be displayed in the study as a symbol to encourage good work and as a talisman to bring good fortune.
Here are some traditional inscriptions on baby hair brushes:
Hairbrush companion, intelligence follows.
(Have a favorable wind throughout the voyage）
Everything is going smoothly, have a bright future.
(A roc can reach a destination of a myriad miles away at one jump)
Brilliant prospects, both intelligent and courageous.
Reading ten thousand books, travelling thousands of miles.
Hundred year taimaobi, thousand year parental love.
Parental love is forever. (My personal favourite)
Traditionally the whole head of the baby is shaved and a brush made using the hair - I did not want to do this so I used only a lock of inconspicuous hair from the front of his head (signwriting or long lines could be an application for this brush). I designed a unique logo only to be used on the brushes for my son, and personalised it with his name. I made the brush with my own hands as well as cut the hair (which is the only way to ensure beyond doubt that it was definitely made from his hair!), and the whole process was very special for me as both a maker and a mother.
By tradition, it also symbolises the everlasting bond between parent and child. For me, this is the most meaningful part. In line with the long list of baby keepsakes (handprints and footprints, umbilical cord, in-utero ultrasound photos, first tooth to fall out...), this is a truly unique and lovely idea that can be treasured for a lifetime. Hair is special, and baby hair is extra special. My once-in-a-lifetime gift to my son and a beautiful way to preserve his newborn hair ~
THE MAGIC PAINTBRUSH
An old Chinese legend tells of a poor little boy who loves to paint. He can't afford a paintbrush, so he draws instead. Then one day, he gets given a paintbrush by a magical old man - and whatever the boy paints turns out to be real. He helps his fellow poor people by painting things they need and eventually it reaches the Emperor's ears. However, the Emperor is greedy and wants only gold, and forces the little boy to paint things for him against his will. When the Emperor asks for a ship on the sea and some waves to go sailing, the clever little boy keeps on painting waves until they drown the ship, and then he simply walks away with his magic paintbrush tucked under his arm.
I read the story of the Magic Paintbrush to my son while he enjoyed an afternoon of free painting with my Water Brush. It's such a pleasure to watch children paint - it's a reminder of the truism that 'painting is one of the last freedoms' and nobody is more free than a child left to their own devices during cherished, unbroken and unstructured play time. It's one of the rare privileges of childhood and indeed it's what made me into the artist I am today.
I believe children should have a wide variety of art materials - both children's art materials and real, beautiful tools wherever possible. The mix allows them to go wild with materials while also learning respect for proper tools. Also, my raw wood handles encourage the tripod grip.
Let your kids play freely and allow them the space to be bored. Painting with kids encourages you to go with the flow too. There is no need to be prescriptive and there are no expectations - if they wants to dance with the brush on the page, let them. If they are frustrated that they can't draw a dinosaur and want you to do it, by all means step in. Many books and early years theories will tell you the opposite extremes of either letting the child do whatever they like and you keep your hands off (which can sometimes lead to frustration as they cannot fully express themselves without honed fine motor skills) or the adult taking over the act completely (where creativity is thwarted).
As an artist I say it doesn't matter. Just keep the flow going and what will be, will be. There will be other artworks, other times. Think long-term. This balance ensures that painting - or whatever activity you're doing, for that matter, with a child - stays playful. Sometimes it's a piece made all by themselves, sometimes they will want the adult to demonstrate, sometimes it's a shared piece, sometimes they'll want their hands to be guided, sometimes you keep the work, sometimes you don't. Sometimes they won't want to paint at all. Sometimes the paint disappears all by itself, as if painted by the Magic Paintbrush...
My brushes are designed not only to look good, they are working tools designed to be used. You see lacquered brush handles a lot. I choose plain raw wood handles as it improves grip and you can really feel what you’re doing with the tools. They are the most useful and beautiful and provide superior grip unlike the varnished handles, and are a good light weight so your hands don’t tire. Yes, it does mean they get a bit messy after a while. Use them, write on them to remind you what specific technique they’re for, get them dirty (and clean up at the end, take good care of them!). These are tools that are meant to be used, loved, taken care of and touched. Beauty in simplicity.
Rocks brush on lava rocks
These igneous volcanic rocks are right from the heat and heart of the earth, burped up in a giant fiery explosion and cooled rapidly to form multiple holes, so these rocks are also a perfect way to scent your home by diffusing essential oils through them (unseen). Wish there was a way to capture the nice smells digitally… for now I still scent my sealing wax with Bornean agar wood but it has proven to be very fugitive the farther away it travels. Art is sensuous.
THE DIAMOND SUTRA
This fleeting world is like
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream
- Prayer from the end of The Diamond Sutra, the world’s oldest printed book
Star at dawn: Rocks ☄️
Bubble in a stream: Water 💧
Flash of lightning in a summer cloud: Clouds (Air) ☁️
Flickering lamp: Fire 🔥
A phantom, and a dream: Ether ✨
Fire brush and the eternal dance between Dragon and the Phoenix, two beings of fire.
The feather is the oldest of brushes. Inserted into a metal ferrule, it is easier to paint with for modern hands.
Rare because they are seasonal and dependant on the natural swan shedding season (swans in the UK are protected by law and owned by the Queen). Also have a traditional quill ferrule available at https://www.theperfectbrush.co.uk/product-page/fire-brush
A dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow
Like dew, like lightning
All conditioned dharmas are like this.
Like the end of the Diamond Sutra too, which inspired my Clouds brush
Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra