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The art of digitizing ancient calligraphy – CNN



Written by Dan Tham, CNNHong Kong

From the moment we wake up and check the messages on our smartphones, we’re exposed to text design. Throughout our day, storefronts and websites announce themselves, first and foremost, through the typefaces they use — whether it’s the Helvetica used by New York City’s subway, the approachability of Cooper Black, or the proprietary CNN Sans that you’re reading on this page.

For Adonian Chan, a 33-year-old graphic designer based in Hong Kong and co-founder of design company Trilingua, the different texts we encounter in our daily lives amount to what he calls a “visual landscape.”

In his hometown, signs written in traditional Chinese characters can be found around every corner. In the hectic district of Mong Kok, neon signs advertise pay-by-the-hour hotels and foot massage parlors. In the quiet neighborhood of Tai Hang, hand-drawn signboards alert passersby to auto repair shops and Chinese medicine stalls.

But one calligraphy style, above all, has come to represent Hong Kong for Chan: Beiwei Kaishu, a dynamic way of writing that has its origins in 4th century China. But Beiwei Kaishu is endangered, Chan says. That’s why he’s on a mission to digitize it into a typeface — and save it.

A black and white sign — written in the Beiwei Kaishu style — draws attention to a chiropractor’s clinic in Hong Kong’s Yau Ma Tei district. Credit: Adonian Chan

Written in stone

According to Keith Tam, head of communication design at the Hong Kong Design Institute, Beiwei Kaishu originated in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 — 534 AD), and was inscribed on stones to document historical events.

In the 19th century, Zhao Zhiqian, a renowned Qing dynasty calligrapher with an interest in epigraphy — the study of inscriptions — crafted his own rendition of Beiwei Kaishu and, using a brush instead of a carving knife, revived the ancient style.

The art of digitizing ancient calligraphy

Tam says although it’s not possible to pinpoint when Beiwei Kaishu made its way to Hong Kong, a well-known local calligrapher named Au Kin Kung, who was born in the 1880s, helped to spread its popularity in the city during the 20th century.

“[Au] was what we might call a ‘commercial calligrapher,’ who inscribed many shops and organizations throughout Hong Kong,” says Tam. “His commercial signage work almost always used Beiwei Kaishu.”

The Hong Kong incarnation of Beiwei Kaishu “evolved from Zhao Zhiqian’s rather softer style to become more exaggerated in the stroke beginnings, inflection points and endings,” says Tam, adding that the Hong Kong Beiwei Kaishu is “a lot more dynamic and powerful than Zhao’s hand.”

After World War II, Beiwei Kaishu was used prolifically in Hong Kong signage, partly because it is highly legible, even from far distances, says Tam. “Pragmatism is one of the characterizations of southern Chinese people, and Beiwei Kaishu seems to be a pragmatic choice.”

What sets Beiwei Kaishu apart from other Chinese writing styles is its asymmetric construction, bold lines and unexpected angles — something that makes it “energetic,” says Chan.

But with the advent of computer-generated fonts and LED signs, Chan says he observed that signs written in the style — work that depended on the skill of calligraphers — were disappearing from Hong Kong.

“It’s almost extinct,” says Chan, pointing to the rapid transformation of Hong Kong’s urban landscape. “They demolish old buildings and, of course, the shops, as well. So it’s really destruction to the visual culture.” As a consequence, few designers working today are aware of the Beiwei Kaishu style, he says.

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Beiwei Kaishu signs like this are disappearing from Hong Kong. This one belongs to Sweetheart Garden Restaurant, in Kowloon, which is famous for its steak. Credit: Adonian Chan

Creating ‘Beiwei Zansyu’

In 2016, Chan asked Wong Gok Loeng, a master of calligraphy in Hong Kong and apprentice of the famed Au Kin Kung, to teach him to write in the Beiwei Kaishu style.

Chan then started the process of digitizing the characters. He first writes the characters on paper with a brush and ink, which gives him a sense of proportion. Next, he makes a pencil sketch. Finally, he recreates the characters digitally, using a computer program called Glyphs.

One of the main challenges when digitizing the ancient calligraphy is striking a balance between the artistic expression of handwritten lettering and the need for consistency and coherence in font design, says Chan.

He can complete two characters a day, depending on their complexity, and is aiming to digitize 6,000 characters.

Chan says his project is geared at doing more than preserving a centuries-old writing style and that he sees himself as building on the work of previous generations.

“We are like co-creators of this design,” he says. He has named his typeface Beiwei Zansyu and hopes it will eventually be installed on phones and computers.

“I see Adonian’s (Chan’s) efforts in turning Beiwei Kaishu into a typeface as a form of historical preservation,” says Tam. “It’s more than waxing nostalgic to bygone eras — it’s reinterpreting and continuing its heritage in contemporary life.”

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Stories in the stitch: East Coast woman creates art in embroidery –



With the fabric secured tightly between the two plastic hoops, Brianna Henry stares at the circle.

It’s how she starts every embroidery project because, with endless options, her creations are limitless.

“A lot of my designs are inspired by the particular fabric I use, or the colours I’m inspired by. Sometimes, I sketch an idea out on the fabric and it goes OK,” she said with a chuckle.

Five fast facts about Brianna Henry

  1. Works as a social media manager
  2. Started embroidering three years ago
  3. Her embroidery business is called Hoop and Holler
  4. Her Instagram is @_hoopandholler
  5. She enjoys creating wreaths and bouquets by layering threads and designs

Brianna Henry, 27, started embroidery three years ago as a way to relax and unwind. Since then, she's started a small business selling her designs.  - Millicent Mckay
Brianna Henry, 27, started embroidery three years ago as a way to relax and unwind. Since then, she’s started a small business selling her designs. – Millicent Mckay

When Henry first started her embroidery hobby about three years ago, she was looking for something to do creatively with her hands. One night while her husband was out, she asked him to pick up some supplies.

“I bought a couple of patterns online. Soon, I was doing it constantly. And while I was really enjoying it, I wasn’t very good. I’d never stitched anything before,” said the 27-year-old.

“It takes patience and practice. You really need to be devoted to it to get better.”

Soon, she was reading through a book of stitches, detailing the different types and techniques.

It’s a slow art, she said; it’s not something a person can pick up and finish within an hour.

“The first pieces I started were floral bouquets. I basically would rough outline and then fill it in as I went. I’d work with different colours of threads and details.”

Brianna Henry creates texture in her embroidery pieces by using different thicknesses of thread, colours, and stitches.  - Millicent Mckay
Brianna Henry creates texture in her embroidery pieces by using different thicknesses of thread, colours, and stitches. – Millicent Mckay

As she continued to hone her craft, people would tell her that her embroidery pieces were beautiful and that she should consider selling them.

“I was asked to recreate a bridal bouquet for a wedding commission. Monograms as well. You can customize each creation. It makes a good keepsake, even hanging decorations in a newborn’s room.”

But selling her work didn’t come immediately.

“I was nervous to put anything out. People said they were good, but I wasn’t sure they were good enough.”

Another Island maker asked her if she ever considered entering an Etsy pop-up or starting her own Etsy store. That interaction helped her gain more confidence to start a business, Hoop and Holler.

Brianna Henry works on an embroidery piece at the P.E.I. Fox Den, an artisan shop located just outside of Summerside, where her pieces are available for sale.  - Millicent Mckay
Brianna Henry works on an embroidery piece at the P.E.I. Fox Den, an artisan shop located just outside of Summerside, where her pieces are available for sale. – Millicent Mckay

Of all of the embroidery she creates, Henry said likes the different wreathes she can make by designing flower patterns and bouquets.

“It’s all about layering. I love the texture in pieces I can create by using different thicknesses of thread. It’s always fun. Every piece depends on what works for you and what works for the piece.”

The practice of embroidering is relaxing, she said.

“Any craft where you can use your hands, focus on it, but then still have the opportunity to have the tv going or listen to music while you work… there’s nothing better than embroidering while you’re under a cozy blanket with a cup of tea by you and a movie on.”

She said she’d like to start working on more personalized pieces, a trend that she’s seeing among makers.

“I feel like embroidered flowers and greenery are always going to be popular. But I’ve seen lately people are using thread to paint a picture rather than use traditional stitches. People are getting portraits made or even pet portraiture. So, a piece of thread will have six individual strands, and then an artist will use those six strands to start the project. Adding a more authentic texture to what the picture is of.”

Getting started

  • Get a hoop
  • Pick a material (not too thick) and thread.
  • Secure fabric in the embroidery hoop.
  • Using a pen or other writing utensil, sketch a pattern on the fabric lightly; this will act as a guide for the pattern.
  • Depending on the design, there could be several stitches used to fill in the design (running stitch, whip stitch, fishbone stitch, woven wheel, etc.)
  • Once finished, Henry adds another fabric to the hoops acting as a backing.

The process

Brianna Henry, 27, started embroidery three years ago as a way to relax and unwind. Since then, she's started a small business selling her designs.  - Millicent Mckay
Brianna Henry, 27, started embroidery three years ago as a way to relax and unwind. Since then, she’s started a small business selling her designs. – Millicent Mckay

When Henry is finishing a project, she prefers to finalize the creation in a wooden hoop.

“They’re really simple and pretty and compliment the projects compared to the bright-coloured, plastic ones. But when I’m in the process of making something, I prefer the plastic ones, because they can hold the fabric really snug, and that’s what you want.”

The hoop must be snug and tight against the fabric to make sure the material doesn’t crease, which can make the process harder and impact the designs, she said.

“I prefer to use cotton or linen because it isn’t super thick. When the fabric is thick, it will be harder to stitch. I typically use quilters cotton and D.M.C. embroidery thread.

“As for needles, get some that are big enough so you can thread the needle, but one that’s not too big that it will leave visible holes in the fabric. I also keep a pair of small, sheer scissors.”

For someone who wants to start an embroidery project but doesn’t have the materials, there are many local Canadian artists that can supply them with the materials, pdfs, and kits.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of kits become available to people wanting to give it a try. I think it (and other hobbies like this) are being sold a lot more and becoming more popular because people are looking for a way to relax.

“And it’s an awesome craft because it’s portable. You can do it where ever you want.”

She said those looking to try a new hobby, including embroidery, shouldn’t be a perfectionist.

“If I could go back and tell myself anything, it would be just that, not to be such a perfectionist. Just have fun and be creative. Don’t be so concerned about the end result. Make it about the process and get enjoyment out of it. Use it as a way to relax or learn.”


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Art Works opens to provide opportunities for youth, adults – Belleville Intelligencer



Belleville Chamber of Commerce CEO Jill Raycroft, Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, Belleville Councillor Garnet Thompson and Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis were on hand Saturday to help Chris Bennett officially open Art Works at 257 North Front St.

jpg, BI

Local dignitaries gathered on Saturday to celebrate the grand opening of Art Works, the city’s newest Art Centre.

Joining owner Chris Bennett for the official ribbon cutting was Belleville Chamber of Commerce CEO Jill Raycroft, Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, Belleville Councillor Garnet Thompson on behalf of the City of Belleville and Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis.

Bennett, a familiar name in the local art scene is the creator behind many of the amazing murals seen around the city. Bennett has been a self-employed muralist, dancer, performing and multi-faceted artist and performing artist in the Belleville area for more than 25 years.

Bennett’s dream has always been to provide arts opportunities for youth and adults, helping them grow and discover their passions through inspiration, education and the freedom to express themselves.

Art Works is his dream come true.

“Art Works reflects how well I am personally doing as an artist; to be able to give back and provide a space for all aspiring and established artists to grow from and to be the influence to our community that I did not have growing up in the Quinte area by creating a studio like no other,” said Bennett.

Check out Art Works on Facebook (—Entertainment/Art-Works-203932277210806/). Art Works is located at 257 North Front St. in Belleville.

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Using Art to Fight Discrimination Against People with Albinism – Human Rights Watch



A local organization in Mozambique is using the power of images to fight discrimination. Azemap, a volunteer-run organization that supports people with albinism, has begun painting five murals at schools across the central Mozambican province of Tete, in collaboration with Human Rights Watch. The murals depict two girls, one with albinism. Below the murals, it reads: “People with albinism are the same as you!”

In the past two years, I’ve encountered many people with albinism in Mozambique who are struggling —not because of their physical condition, but because their communities ostracize and discriminate against them, and authorities do little to combat this stigma or support their needs.

“People would come and throw rocks at me and I had to hide,” said Rosa, 34, describing her childhood. Her father abandoned the family because she had albinism. “People would say, ‘You’re not a person, you’re a witch.’ They would call me an ‘animal’ and say my color is not the color of a human being.” 

Rosa is one of dozens of people with albinism whom we interviewed in Tete province. Albinism is a rare condition caused by a lack of melanin or pigmentation in the skin, hair, and eyes. Almost all of those we spoke to suffer widespread stigma, discrimination and rejection at school, in the community, and sometimes from their own families. They face significant obstacles to a quality education because of bullying by their peers and sometimes teachers, and little accommodation in the classroom for their low vision.

For this to change, the government of Mozambique needs to dismantle the systemic barriers that people with albinism face. It also needs to transform societal attitudes to foster acceptance and inclusion of people with albinism within their communities.

Josina, a 9-year-old student with albinism in Tete province who is depicted in the murals, has a hopeful story. Instead of being considered an outcast, she is integrated in her family, school, and community. If these images can touch a few hearts and minds, they may also help provide hopeful futures for Rosa and many others with albinism and begin to end the struggles they endure.   

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