Guest writer: saeshii#9126
I’ve always been fond of all forms of painting, whether this be done traditionally or digitally. I have no clue what about it makes it interesting. Maybe it’s the way people could just pick up a brush, dip it in any color they want, and let their hands run free as they visualize what they want to paint on a canvas. The different masterpieces people created are astounding, and it just makes me wonder how they are able to create such art. But did you know not all paintings need to have color to make it appear as beautiful? A good example is sumi-e, also known as Japanese ink painting.
It is said that sumi-e (墨絵風) originally came from China because of how similar the brush strokes were to Chinese calligraphy. The name derives from the words sumi, which means black ink and e (pronounced as eh), which means painting. In the early days of this, the painting created using it was considered ‘tangible poetry,’ however when it’s mixed with calligraphy they were always considered as ‘visual haikus.’ This was introduced by Zen Buddhist monks in the fourteenth century, wherein the brush strokes were eventually toned down and simplified to create the style known today.
For beginners, it is recommended to purchase ones that are somewhat expensive and have quality, because if you were to buy one that was mass-produced, the only thing that awaits you is disappointment because of the brush not performing as expected and how disenchanting the result will look. Speaking of brushes, when cleaning them, you should never use hot water because of how animal glue can easily dissolve in it. But if the brush is left underwater for too long, the bristles will fall out.
Now for the paper used, Japanese papers are mainly produced from kozo, a type of mulberry, and gampi. Gampi is said to be insect resistant. It is the most durable in terms of how long it will last, so it is one of the most popular types of papers. It is also said to be very smooth which helps in preventing the ink from spreading out the paper, so these are considered one the best papers to use when doing calligraphy or painting.
Lastly, the ink, there is an aphorism regarding this: “sumi is black but also not black,” which suggests many things including the entire spectrum of colors. A sumi-e artist should experiment with these hues and use the ink that gave the best-looking results. The carbon for the ink used has three sources. One is repressed oil, when this is burnt, it gives a soot that has in-depth blackness. Next is pine sap that produces a soot that has a quality of transparency and a tone of ink that ranges from light black to bluish gray. Lastly, industrial oils are used in order to create the inexpensive sumi that has a brown tone.
The brushstrokes of the painter should be soft, blend for nature and to not aim for absolute control. Through this, the artist’s character is revealed. Learning the main strokes of this type of painting requires one to begin studying the four plants and their forms, this is also known as the four noble gentlemen. The plants that are studied symbolize the four seasons, this being orchid for spring, bamboo for summer, chrysanthemum for winter, and a plum blossom for winter.
Painting can be challenging sometimes but honestly, it’s really satisfying when you see the final piece you made. It’s rather pleasing to the eye to see the mixture of colors on the sheet of paper. So if you ever get bored during quarantine again, how about trying sumi-e out? I’d really be interested in the artworks you make!