"Steaming" Chinese Calligraphy / Painting Artwork?

A Real Story in China translated from an article in Chinese websites

Once a Chinese mounting and scroll making master had a diligent female apprentice. She was humble and diligent to learn and the master did not hide any secrets when teaching her. 

One day a customer came in with a newly written calligraphy work by a famous Chinese calligrapher. He proclaimed it was a newly written work and asked the master to guarantee that no "smudged ink" will occur during the mounting processes. The master agreed confidently. ("Smudged ink" refers to that the ink will be dispersed and smudged to the surrounding area and mess up some area of the work when "Wet Mounting" starts.)

After the customer left, the master told his apprentice, "Just fold the calligraphy and steam it as you steam dumplings or bums. But remember, only ten minutes!" The girl replied, "No problem. I will definitely remember!" Then he ran on his errand. After she started the steamer for a few moment, the phone rang on the second floor. She assumed it was an ordinary phone call and would take at most three minutes. But, it was her boyfriend! She became so flattered on the phone and totally forgot the "steaming calligraphy."

After more than twenty minutes, she remembered the steamer and went down to the kitchen... But she saw the steamer was almost burned without any water left, and the calligraphy... burned with one big hole. When she unfolded it, there were eight holes! She suddenly became so pale...

When the master came back and saw her in great despair, she just uttered "... burned ... burned..." It's too late for the master to become mad.


There are some traditional methods in preventing smudged ink during "Wet Mounting" of Chinese calligraphy or painting work.

1. Dry naturally and wait for several months. But this is not a guarantee, especially if the ink quality is no good, ink will most likely smudge during mounting. (If the calligrapher and painter uses certain brands of bottled ink, the ink would still smudge even after six month. I am not going to name those brands.)

2. Add some alum to the Shuan Paper. Ink will not smudge during Wet Mounting, yet the color of the ink will become somewhat darker.

3. Fold the work and steam it.




After two weeks or so, the customer came to see his scroll. The master began to praise the calligraphy continuously and said, "Well, one of my connoisseur friend saw the calligraphy and he thought it was really awesome, he took it away without my permission. But he kept $5,000 here and said he would pay more if that is not enough. So what do we do...?"

The customer paused for a while and said, "Your friend must pay $3,000 more and I will take the money to the calligrapher and ask him to write again." The master said, "Agreed. I am paying the money now and will get reimbursed from him." Then he sent the customer away.

(The master is not only skillful and masterful in mounting scrolls, but he is also street smart! In fact, the average market price of that calligrapher's work was way, way higher... )

An unexpected phone call while "steaming" calligraphy could cause $1,000 per hole!

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