Sumi-e, or ink painting, actually isn't Japanese at all. It's Chinese. Word on the street is that people in Taiwan and Korea paint with sumi, too. Despite all this, I learned sumi-e in Japan, from a New Yorker. I guess it would be more appropriate to call this style of painting Chinese brush painting, but since I know it as sumi-e, I will refer to it as such.
I learned this style during my year at Kansai Gaidai. I haven't been able to get my hands on the same type of paper that we used there. I've asked around at a number of different stationery shops, art supply, & craft stores, and nobody seems to carry mulberry paper. It's a real bummer. I have to settle for a thicker, whiter paper, that doesn't absorb the ink the way I'm used to.
Ah, but despite this, there is nothing better than painting. I love it.
Sumi (ink) comes in a stick. In order to get yourself some colored liquid to paint with, you have to grind the stick in an inkstone with some water. The stick itself is actually a compressed bar of soot. Its made by burning cedar wood soaked in oil, and then covering it with a big metal.. cover.. and then collecting the soot residue on the inside of the cover. They smoosh it together with some glue, and bada-bing-bada-boom you have yourself a stick of sumi! I have to say that this is one of my most favorite smells in the entire world. It smells faintly of cedar and campfire.
Once I see the ink looking slick in the well, it's time to dip the brush in and start making various shades of grey. Sometimes I add colors, but sometimes I get really distracted by them, especially if I am painting a landscape or bamboo. I usually reserve color only for flowers, but I do like monochrome flowers, too.
The motion of the brushstrokes, the thought behind the balance of the painting, along with the smell of the sumi and sitting seiza, really just relaxes me and lets my mind wander. It's definitely one of my favorite ways to unwind. Hopefully now that I have some appropriate paper, I will be able to get my painting up to snuff again. I think I've become a little rusty, as I haven't painted since before I left for Japan this time around.... which I guess hasn't been since... Feburary or March.
I love Sumi-e! What do you love?