Creating Sumi-e (すみえ) for Beginners




Introduction: Creating Sumi-e (すみえ) for Beginners

Sumi-e (墨絵風) also known as suiboku-ga, is Japanese monochrome ink painting or 'ink wash painting'.
Sumi-e paintings in essence are beautiful forms of art, and they traditionally encompass philosophy as well.

The origin of sumi-e paintings have roots in Chinese calligraphy, which can be noted by the similar brush strokes.

In early use of sumi-e, the paintings themselves were viewed as tangible poetry---when together with calligraphy the paintings were often considered visual haiku (haiku is a form of poetry in Japanese literature).

Sumi-e can be a therapeutic experience---long ago and with the progression of time, Chinese calligraphy has been thought to portray a writer's spiritual attunement.

With and without the inherent concept of harmony traditionally instilled in sumi-e, the practice itself is generally relaxing, unique, and fun!

Step 1: Be Inspired

What inspires you? Art is the embodiment of expression, so feel free to express yourself however you like. There are no boundaries to what form sumi-e can be sketched out, so choose a base idea that you can begin with. Be creative and remember to enjoy yourself. The sky’s the limit.

Step 2: Acquire the Materials

Traditionally, sumi-e was painted only in varying shades of black and white because of the idealized contrast and harmony between the living marks of ink and the empty nothingness of white.

Modern sumi-e includes a wide range of colors and hues alongside the shades of black---and the canvas for the paintings were done on rice paper. Unless you’re really serious about the quality/authenticity of your artwork, or you consider yourself to be a professional in the making, these resources are pricey so there are common papers and paints that can be used to still make good sumi-e.

Specifics: You will need:

• Canvas (paper), I would recommend thicker paper so the paint doesn’t bleed through
• Varying brushes, depending on the level of detail and the texture you want (these were commonly made from a combination of bamboo and natural hairs)
• Felt---sold in fabric stores, cheap (essential for preventing the wet paper from sticking to your underlying surface)
• Saucer for combining/mixing shades
• 2 water containers, one to clean the brush and one for clean water

• (optional) other colored paints to use or blend

Step 3: Set Aside Some Free Time

Getting into the right mindset--- remember to relax and see where your creativity takes you.

Step 4: Set Up Your Workspace

Expect that it might get messy!
You might use pictures or objects as reference.
Choose a location with good lighting. This is up to the artist’s preference, but natural lighting versus artificial lighting can make a significant difference so choose to your liking.
Clear a wide space on a (preferably large) flat surface for you to set up.
Lay out all of your materials so that they are easily accessible to you while you’re painting.
Get comfortable.
It’s ok to take breaks if you get tired or have the munchies, etc. Hahaha.
Keep in mind you will also need somewhere for your sumi-e to dry.
Again, this is up to the artist’s preference, but peace and quiet when one’s working usually helps concentration and makes for fewer distractions. Personally, I like to listen to music when I draw.

Step 5: Work With Your Base

Create a light sketch or outline of what you intend to achieve, so that you have subtle guidelines that help you know where to guide your paintbrush. It would be best to make these outlines in pencil so that they are easily concealed by the ink/paint and also erasable and versatile.

Traditional sumi-e takes a good amount of mediation beforehand because of the nature of the ink/paint which cannot be undone or erased.
Because this tutorial is intended for beginners, having a basic sketch of what you're envisioning is probably going to be very helpful so I would highly recommend this step.

Step 6: Continue Onto the Details

It can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Simplicity often allows for more open interpretation and intense detail can really make a piece of art look breathtaking. The nature of sumi-e drawings usually provides a texture of “flow” due to the strokes of the brushes, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be epic and outspoken!

Step 7: Enjoy Your Masterpiece!

Sumi-e usually has a name stamp, so make sure to put your artsy signature!

These were usually carved beforehand into jade for the elite and then pressed onto stamp pads (known as chop engraving), however, modern sumi-e accommodates all societal positions. :)

Good luck!

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    6 years ago

    Sumi-e is not only about the inspiration and suitable materials. What about the technique? How someone is supposed to draw without knowing the basic strokes?


    7 years ago on Step 4

    I think I'll give it a try! if it turns out half decent I'll show it to you :)