SUMI-E Japanese Ink Painting on Screens
Term: 4 Year: 2008
“The brush dances and the ink sings”
Year 6 students focused on South East Asia in their SOSE studies. Sumi-e Japanese Ink painting had its origins and philosophy
in China and I felt that Sumi-e tied into this curriculum area and into the study area of painting in my Visual Arts curriculum.
Sumi-e ink painting is heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism, the students were encouraged to meditate and calm themselves
before attempting to paint their interpretation of the essence of nature. The fresh blossom, bamboo, orchids and chrysanthemums
in the Art room certainly set the scene for the classes.
The students learnt that Zen and the techniques of painting were established in Japan during the twelfth century after
finding their way from China via Korea to Japan. Each country refining the techniques to suit their culture and societal
Between 1392-1573, Sumi-e Ink painting reached its epitome in Japan becoming a fusion of powerful technique and spontaneity.
The essence of Sumi-e focuses on the definition of Space and is a discipline that should be practiced continuously. In
ink paintings, a line does not represent the contour of a form rather; it represents the inner power of the painted form
itself – its essence. It represents soul, spirit and life rhythm all at once. The artist becomes one with the object.
The students in Year 6 were intrigued to discover that our artist in residence, a ceramicist who specializes in Japanese
styled pottery had originally studied Sumi-e ink painting under a Zen master to enhance her ceramic painting.
The beauty of Sumi-e ink painting is that all the components find their origins in nature, the very essence; Sumi-e seeks
The students learnt the origins of their painting equipment. The grinding stone is made from a specific type of slate;
the blue/black ink is generally made from lamp black or the soot of burned pine wood combined with animal fat, such as
fish that is used as glue. The painting paper can be made from rice, cotton or silk, each surface affecting the final outcome.
The handle is generally made from bamboo and the bristles can be of various widths and made from various types of animal
hair, such as goat, sheep, badger, horse, deer, weasel, bear, wolf, rabbit and even the whiskers of a rat.
“The degrees of tone within the blue/black ink produce an awareness of colour by creating a contrast with the
white surface. The tones of black serve as an immediate expression of emotions and it is the process that gives Sumi-e
its expressionistic character.”
The students became challenged and engrossed in practicing the Four Friends which describe the brushstrokes which need
to be learnt and practiced. The easiest brush stoke being the Bamboo, then the Orchid, Cherry blossom and the most difficult
stroke is the one employed in the painting of the Chrysanthemum.
The students were encouraged to imagine that the painting brush was an extension of them selves and that all movement
came from their heart.
Methodist Ladies College