How a Search for High Quality Painting Brushes Created Chinese Characters that Communicate the Gospel

i-am-the-wayHere’s an unusual story. First of all  a tip for anyone looking for brushes for icon painting. I was looking for a source for good cheap brushes to use with egg tempera. The usual recommendation is Kalinsky sable. These are very expensive watercolour brushes and made from sable hair (a sable is an animal, a Russian marten). If you use brushes for watercolour they will last a lifetime, but if you use them for egg tempera they quickly degrade because the paint is quite abrasive, made from pigment – which is effectively coloured grit – and egg yolk, diluted with water. This can become expensive quite quickly. Luckily, I discovered that Chinese painting brushes are an excellent but much cheaper alternative. They are made to come to a point for use with calligraphy and hold a large amount of paint, so are perfect for painting in egg tempera. I get my brushes from an online supplier called Good Characters, here.

Another side of their business is doing a consultancy for people doing business in China – they develop company logos that will speak to the Chinese and give the right impression. As a regular customer, and as part of a promotion for this Andy Chuang who runs the company in California asked me if I wanted him to create a Chinese character for me. I thought about it and suggested this:

First of all the statement from Lao Tsu: ‘Man’s standards are conditioned by those of Earth, the standard of Earth by those of Heaven, the standard of Heaven by that of the Way [Tao] and the standard of the Way is that of its own intrinsic nature.’ (from Tao Te Ching, XXV (6th century BC)

Then I asked that this be juxtaposed with the scriptural quote: ‘I am the Way’ Jesus Christ, (John 14:6)

I thought maybe it would help evangelise China. Doaism has belief in heaven which is a non-material, spiritual place, but is an impersonal, empty heaven with no God. I thought that maybe putting these together might lead them to accept Christ as the fullness of what is believed.

Andy was very happy to oblige and sent me the following. First the Lao Tsu


and then from John’s gospel


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David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993. Visit the Way of Beauty blog at

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