Sumi Art (Selection) : Sumi-e (Japanese ink painting)

Sumi-e – reducing little to even less    ( Deutsch)


Sumi is the Japanese form of a Far Eastern art style and painting technique whose roots date back to the Tang Dynasty in China some 1,300 years ago. Further refined there between the 10th and 13th centuries, this style of ink wash painting made its way via Korea to Japan some 500 years ago, where it was developed during the period of the Kitayma culture into a form that has been handed down to today. During this period of a sophisticated intellectual and art world the typical Japanese arts of the Noh theatre, tea ceremony and garden landscaping also emerged, remaining unchanged since then.


From ink block to ink


"Ink" in this context  is the always black ink that is also used in Far Eastern calligraphy, made from spruce soot and animal glue – the latter extracted from stag antlers or bovine bones as a binder  – and made into small elongated blocks.
Occasionally small amounts of additives such as musk or camphor are blended in. For use the ink block is ground on a special ink stone, with the addition of a small amount of water. Silk occasionally serves as a painting surface, mostly handmade paper is used, produced from very fine fibers of various shrubs and distinguished by a smooth, absorbent structure. Comparable results can be achieved with some modern paper grades.

Culturally and spiritually sumi-e is rooted in the spirit of Zen, the Japanese expression of Buddhism. The core aspect is curtailment and detachment from the world as an antithesis to the joys of daily life. Accordingly Sumi-e paintings are reduced in form, whether figurative or abstract, and in color, with only black and gray shades applied.


Sumi-e must flow


Her method of working requires a high degree of concentration and mastery of the technique since each brush stroke on the paper is permanent and cannot be corrected: the brush must flow over the paper continuously without interruption, within seconds rather than minutes. If this is unsuccessful or less than satisfactory, the work is "dead" because it lacks the right spirit. Therefore many hours are usually required until, after several dozen attempts and sheets of paper, a single sumi-e work remains – if any at all – that meets her artistic aspirations.

Alphabet U   
Privatsammulung / Private collection

Book 2: Sumi-e
Mayumi Yamakawa