Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Art of Sumi-e

Although one does find the occasional colored Sumi-e painting, or one made on colored paper, Sumi-e actually means: Black Ink Painting. Black ink on white paper, simple, elegant and serene. Simplicity is the most outstanding characteristic of Sumi-e. An economy of brush strokes are used to communicate the essence of the subject.

"If we study Japanese Art, we see a man who is undoubtedly wise, philosophic and intelligent, who spends his time doing what? In studying the distance between the earth and moon? No. In studying Bismark's policy? No. He studies a single blade of grass." -- Vincent Van Gogh

The Philosophy of Sumi-e is contrast and harmony, expressing simple beauty and elegance.

Artists who make Sumi-e usually grind their own ink using an ink stick (in Japanese: sumi) and a grinding stone (suzuri in Japanese) but prepared inks are also available. Most ink sticks are made of densely packed charcoal ash from bamboo or pine soot combined with glue extracted from MulgogiPbur, from Korean for fish bone or nikawa (Japanese for fish bones).

An artist puts a few drops of water on an ink stone and grinds the ink stick in a circular motion until a smooth, black ink of the desired concentration is made. Prepared inks are also available, but are of much lower quality. Sumi-e themselves, are sometimes ornately decorated with landscapes or flowers in bas-relief and some are highlighted with gold.

Here is a little video that shows step-by-step, how to create a Sumi-e rhododendron:

If you are unable to see the video, please click HERE.

Sumi-e employs these principles of nature's vitality in its design and execution. The balance and integration of these forces and the eternal interaction of Yin Yang are the ultimate goal of Sumi-e.

Sumi-e attempts to capture the Chi or "life spirit" of the subject, painting in the language of the spirit.

Patience is essential in Sumi-e painting. Balance, rhythm and harmony are the qualities the artist strives for by developing patience, self-discipline and concentration. Strength and balance are two other qualities demonstrated in this ancient art form.

The goal of the Sumi-e painter is to use the brush with both vitality and restraint. Constantly striving to be a better person because his character and personality come through in his work.

If you are interested in trying your hand at Sumi-e, HERE is a straight-forward, simple guide that can help you along.

Have fun!!

1 comment:

freebird said...

I think the Japanese just like to develop patience and the art of perfection. It's a difficult concept for most Americans. I went to a tea ceremony with a Japanese lady while living in Japan. It was beautiful but done very slowly and deliberately trying for perfection. That was 20 years ago and the women were complaining then that their daughters didn't want to study tea ceremony. I wonder if Sumi-e is losing popularity too. I hope not.

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Stacy Alexander