It’s always fun to try something new. Several weeks ago I decided to try Sumi-e, the art of Japanese ink painting. I have always admired the elegance of Sumi-e works. They remind me of Ikebana, Japanese flower arranging. In both art forms, the subjects are treated with tremendous respect. Each stem and petal is slowly, carefully placed in the composition. A friend of mine is quite involved in flower arranging, and I attended a brief workshop she gave on Ikebana. Although I was pretty happy with my arrangement, I don’t think it qualified as exemplary. I have too much tendency to add more flowers!
I began by purchasing The Sumi-e Book, by Yolanda Mayhall. This instructional book illustrates the four basic brushstrokes of Sumi-e, along with examples of various subjects. I also bought a small set with the basic Sumi-e brushes, ink, and stone.
The ink comes in a hard, rectangular slab, which is wet with water and then ground on the stone, a piece of slate called the suzuri (soo-zoo-ri), to produce ink that is ready for painting. The classical brush, called fude (foo-day), has a unique, tapered shape, and is properly held upright when making brushstrokes. A flat, tapered brush, called hake (hah-kay), is also used for washes, bamboo strokes, and other effects.
I began practicing on newsprint, as recommended for the beginner, and then progressed to other paper, including rice paper. Slow, thoughtful strokes work best for me.
Watercolor is still my favorite medium, but I truly enjoy painting in the Sumi-e style too, and I find that there is carry-over in the brushwork I use in both styles. Trying something new is a great way to break out of an artistic rut and rekindle the excitement of learning.