I bought this stone with the understanding that it is a She inkstone, from Anhui in China. The box, as you can see, is custom-made to the shape of the stone, which is carved into the shape of a gourd. Measurements of the stone are about 8 x 3 inches (20 x 7.5 cm), with the inside of the well about 4 x 2.5 inches (10 x 6.3 cm). This stone is smooth and hard, and easily grinds ink into very fine particles. The back of the stone is a bit lopsided, so it wobbles when ink is being ground. I solved this problem by placing a small piece of folded felt under the wobbly area.
According to Cao Jieming, vice manager of She Ink Stone Factory, She inkstones have some distinctive characteristics:
The She ink stone is hard but smooth, with a clear and dense texture. While touching it, it feels like the skin of a baby. Good She ink stones do not absorb water. On cold days, if you breathe on it, the water may form on the ink stone and it can be used to grind ink.
Other people make the same claim – that by breathing on an inkstone, if the moisture from your breath is quickly absorbed, the stone is too porous. I tried this, and the moisture from my breath remained visible on the stone for over a minute. When I wiped my finger across the area I breathed on, a small puddle of water appeared.
If you do a web search about She inkstones, you will learn a lot about them. They are prized for the quality of the stone, as well as the minerals which are embedded into the stones. These markings are given a variety of names, such as Gold Star, Small Water Wave, Fish Egg. A skilled craftsman will work to bring out the beauty of these markings while making an excellent inkstone.
She inkstones vary in color, from green, to grey, to black.
My Gourd-Shaped Inkstone
My stone is a deep grey-black, and is quite hard. There are swirls darker grey throughout the stone. The upper part of this stone is carved into leaves, with the lower end containing the well representing a gourd. (Or maybe a squash?) The carving is very smooth and clean, as you can see from the picture, moving gracefully from the leaves into the gourd and well of the stone.
The stone is also very thin, measuring no more than 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick. When tapped, the stone gives a pleasant, metallic sound.
The reverse side of this stone shows some greenish streaks, as well as bits of gold color. Pyrites, if I remember correctly, are necessary in good inkstones. The image below is on the reverse of the stone, beneath the well. Notice the colors, spots, and striations in the stone.
This next image is from the reverse, upper part of the stone, beneath the carved leaves.
Even closer, you can see the stone’s characteristics.
For me, learning about the tools I use is important as it gives me a greater appreciation for it in so many ways: respect for the artisan and his/her skills, respect for the history of the tool, respect for the beauty within the tool itself. To care properly for the inkstone is to honor it, its history, and its place in my own creative endeavors.