Sumi-e: The Art of Japanese Ink Paintings
Magnolia Japanese Ink Painting by Dazzling Art Boutique
In the visual arts, few practices offer the level of precision, economy of means and self-discipline required as much as sumi-e. Also known as black ink painting and offen associated with shodo calligraphy, this is a traditional Japanese art that uses ink to create static masterpieces. In this article we list some interesting facts about Sumi-e, The Art of Japanese Ink Painting, its history and how you can learn it.
What is Sumi-e?
Sumi-e is a traditional Japanese form of art that uses ink as a paint to create static masterpieces. Sumi-e is often confused with shodo calligraphy, but the two are very different art forms. Sumi-e is an art of painting in black ink and calligraphy is an art of writing in black ink. Sumi-e is a meditative art form that encourages the artist to slow down and focus on the simple beauty of the ink pigment, brush and paper through the process of creating each work. Sumi-e is a very versatile medium that can be used for landscape paintings, nature, figure, animals, flowers, architecture, Chinese or Japanese characters, and much more.
Traditionally, the ink used in sumi-e was made from soot collected from the burning of wood, pine being a common source. This was mixed with water and a small amount of ash. The mixture was thinned with water and applied to paper or silk. It is believed that sumi-e was invented in China around 2500BC, and then travelled to Japan via the Silk Road around 900 AD. The oldest surviving examples of Japanese art are paintings on wood and paper in the style of Chinese ink paintings. Since the natural dyes of Japan are not suitable for painting, Chinese ink was used in Japan for many centuries. Until the mid-19th century, sumi-e remained the dominant art form in Japan.
You can use a wide variety of brushes and paper for sumi-e. It is recommended that you choose a brush with a fine tip and stiff but soft bristles to achieve the desired thin lines. Traditionally, sumi-e artists used brushes with horsehair bristles, but now those with synthetic bristles are more common. You can use a fine-tipped flat brush for the bold strokes in a landscape. A round-tipped brush with fine bristles is best for creating thin lines in a landscape or a portrait. You can use a wide brush with a broad tip to quickly paint a landscape. You can use any type of paper for sumi-e, but the most common papers are mizuhiki (Japanese paper) and Chinese rice paper.
Who can learn Sumi-e?
The great thing about sumi-e is that it is open to anybody, regardless of age and skill level. Sumi-e is a meditative art form that can be practised alone and allows the artist to focus on the simplicity of their work. Even though the art of sumi-e isn’t a difficult one, it can take years to master. It is highly recommended that beginners start with a simple subject like a tree or a house. With time and practice, you can try painting landscapes, flowers, or other more detailed subjects.
Wild Orchid Sumi-e Ink Painting by Dazzling Art Boutique
Bamboo, wild orchid, chrysanthemum und branches of the plum tree are called in China and Japan the ‘4 Noble Gentlemen“. Every motive teaches us a new stroke of the brush. It is told by the early Chinese ink artists that all forms of the universe are found in these four motives. Every one of these plants also has a profound philosophical meaning.
- Plum blossom represents late winter, perseverance, purity and hope.
- Wild orchid symbolizes spring, feminine beauty and delicacy.
- Chrysanthemum, as it is one of the last flowers to bloom, is celebrated as a symbol of autumn, determination and wisdom.
- Bamboo with its straight, high towering up branches, its evergreen leaves and its amazing flexibility is being compared to a noble person.
Sumi-e Lessons For Beginners
Choosing the right materials is important, so make sure you select quality paper. You can use mizuhiki or Chinese rice paper as they are soft and absorbent.
Select a brush with a fine tip and soft but stiff bristles. A round-tipped brush with fine bristles is best for creating thin lines while a fine-tipped flat brush is best for creating broad strokes.
Remember to relax your arm and wrist while holding the brush. This will help you create thin lines.
While practising, try painting simple subjects like bamboo or orchid leaves. Once you become familiar with the technique, you can move on to painting landscapes, other type of flowers or other more detailed subjects.
Keep practising by painting regularly.
Sumi-e is a traditional Japanese art form that uses ink as a paint to create static masterpieces. Sumi-e is often confused with calligraphy (shodo), but the two are very different art forms. Sumi-e is an art of painting in black ink and calligraphy is an art of writing in black ink. The great thing about sumi-e is that it is open to anybody, regardless of age and skill level. Sumi-e is a meditative art form that can be practised alone and allows the artist to focus on the simplicity of their work. Even though the art of sumi-e isn’t a difficult one, it can take years to master. It is highly recommended that beginners start with a simple subject like a bamboo or the leaves of an orchid or grass. With time and practice, you can try painting landscapes, more flowers, or other more detailed subjects.
Japanese Sumi-e Ink Paintings
Traditionally Japanese sumi-e ink paintings are created with the "four treasures" (the ink stick, ink stone, brush and paper) and depict the "four gentlemen": bamboo, wild orchids, chrysanthemum or plum blossom. Sumi-e is also known for its beautiful landscape ink paintings.
Below you will find both traditional Sumi-e artwork as well as modern renditions inspired by Japanese Ink Paintings. Please enjoy this special collection inspired by the brush (fude), ink (sumi) and rice paper (washi). The Fine Art Prints in this collection are printed on original Asian Rice Paper of high-quality and long lasting. Each fine art print is signed by myself: the artist (Ricarda).