Sumi-e literally translates to ink painting. It is an ancient technique which has it’s origins in China, but a long tradition in Japan. Zen Buddhist monks were the first practitioners of sumi-e. They used meditation in preparation for the actual painting. This formed the basis for the creative process of grinding the ink, filling the brush and letting go of the brushstroke on the rice paper. The rice paper makes the ink flow easily and absorbs it right away. This way every work you make becomes an adventure and a challenge.
The ink is created by grinding an ink stick, which is made of soot mixed with bone glue, in some water on an ink stone. The longer you grind the darker the ink will become. This is an essential part of sumi-e. It will also help you to get concentrated and be ready for the actual painting.
Brushes come in different sorts and sizes. The most commonly used hairs are goat’s hair, which is white and very soft, and Chinese wolf’s hair, which is brown and less soft. They can also be mixed in one brush. You can use different brushes for different techniques and effects.
Rice paper is also available in a lot of variations and sizes. Every variation will react differently to the ink. You can use this to your advantage.
Due to the use of ink and water the rice paper crinkles, which makes it difficult to frame. To straighten your painting you mount it on another piece of rice paper. This should be the same sort of paper on which your painting was made. Mounting your work makes it stronger and less transparent. All of this will enhance your painting. Mounting should be done carefully, because wet rice paper is very delicate.
A seal acts as the artist’s signature and completes a painting. The seal is created by cutting characters or a monogram out of relatively soft stone. It is applied to the painting by using a red paste, and with the white of the paper and the black of the ink, the sumi-e composition is complete.