Sumi-e art is a traditional East Asian painting practice of using a brush and ink on paper. Sumi-e is the Japenese word for Black Ink Painting, while Sumi refers to the ink itself. According to the Sumi-e society, the Chinese once described the art form as “writing a painting,” as the emphasis of the painting is placed on the beauty of each individual stroke.
I’m attracted to this art style for its simplicity and timelessness. Hey, it’s survived a quite a few centuries….Ink painting developed in China during the Han Dynasty sometime after the practice of calligraphy. Since they both share the same tools, artists began to explore the different possibilities of using ink and paper for painting. The Asian Brush Painter states it was not until the 4th century that painting developed into an independent genre and art form. Traveling Chinese Buddhist monks are responsible for introducing other cultures throughout Eastern Asia to ink painting.
The practice of Sumi-e art requires an ink stick, ink stone, brush and paper, known as the Four Treasures. Modern artists use other forms of paper or canvases for Sumi. Canvas absorbs more ink and delivers a velvety feel while Sumi on a painted board or coated surface provides a cleaner line. The Asian Painter describes the two types of ink commonly used as either made in stick form to be grinded in an ink slab, or ready-made in liquid form. Some artists do still prefer to grind their own ink in order to meditate, in which an ink stone is necessary. The paper is seen as the counterpart of the ink due to its brightness; therefore, the paper used must be fresh white. It also must be thick and absorbent so the brush can keep moving as soon as painting has started. There are a large variety of brushes that can be used for Sumi-e art depending on whether the artist wants fine lines or thicker, heavier lines. Sumi-e society explains how the traditional East Asian brushes are hand-made using natural materials, mostly hair from various wild animals.
The philosophy of Sumi-e art involves capturing the spirit, or essence of something rather than the photographic likeness. In an article written by Greg Conley, Sumi-e is described as the art of capturing the subject’s Chi or “life spirit” by using balance, rhythm and harmony. He explains how an artist should use the brush with both vitality and restraint in an effort to express both simple beauty and elegance of the subject.