Take a class with SAL - anywhere! Li Cheng, 919-967 Think you know about sumi ink and brush painting? Below is some basic history about this ancient art form, as well as some facts you might not know! History of Sumi Tang Dynasty Horse Ink wash painting appeared in China during the Tang dynasty (618–907). That’s 1400 years ago, and 700 years before the Renaissance! In ancient China, ink and brush painting was one of the “Four Arts” expected to be learnt by China’s upper class of scholar-officials. The Four Arts are: qin (a musical stringed instrument) qi (strategy to the game of Go) shu (calligraphy) hua (painting) qi (strategy to the game of Go) Painters were not only esteemed as professional artists, they also held status as philosophers, and wise men*. Painting was seen as “perfect knowledge”, as well as the expression of moral integrity and high culture. Sumi painting was further developed into a more polished style during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). *I have not found mention of a female painter until modern times. Contact me if you have more info! Six Persimmons, Song Dynasty Sumi was introduced to Korea shortly after China’s discovery of the ink. Through time, Korean Zen Buddhist monks picked up the art and later introduced it to Japan during missionary visits. By the mid fourteenth century the art had a firm niche in Japanese culture. (Source) The artists of Japan, Korea and Malaysia learned from the Chinese and then developed their own versions of East Asian brush painting. Sumi-eh? Have you ever seen “sumi” spelled “sumi-e”? Sumi-e (pronounced soo-mi-eh) is the Japanese word for ink-and-brush painting. In Japanese, “sumi” means “black ink”, and “e” means painting. Click here to see how to draw the Japanese Kanji characters for sumi-e. Paint the feeeeling Yuan Dynasty (1271 to 1368) According to Asian writing, the goal of ink painting is not to reproduce the appearance of the subject, but instead to capture its spirit. To paint a horse, the artist must understand the horse’s temperament even better than its muscles and bones. To paint a flower, there is no need to perfectly match its petals and colors, but it is essential to convey the flower’s liveliness and fragrance. This philosophy was heavily influential later, as it contributed to Western Impressionism, and Expressionism. Simple is best Asian influenced ink and brush painting by Sir Arthur Wesley Dow East Asian painting has influenced many Western artists. In his classic book Composition, American artist and educator Arthur Wesley Dow (1857–1922) wrote: “The painter… put upon the paper the fewest possible lines and tones; just enough to cause form, texture and effect to be felt. Every brush-touch must be full-charged with meaning, and useless detail eliminated. Put together all the good points in such a method, and you have the qualities of the highest art”. – Sir Arthur Wesley Dow Georgia O’Keefe, Blue Lines Dow’s fascination with ink painting not only shaped his own approach to art but also helped many American artists, including his student Georgia O’Keeffe, avoid what he called a “story-telling” approach. Dow endeavored to create harmonic compositions through three elements: line, shading, and color. In his lessons, he advocated practicing with Asian ink and brushes to develop aesthetic acuity with line and shading. Writing a painting Wang Dongling (contemporary) Painting and writing developed together in ancient China. The Chinese speak of “writing a painting” and “painting a poem.” In ink and brush painting, emphasis is placed on the quality of each individual stroke. A great painting was judged on three elements: the calligraphy strokes, the words of the poetry, and the ability of the painting strokes to capture the spirit of nature rather than a photographic likeness. Artists in Japan, Korea and Malaysia learned from the Chinese and then developed their own versions of ink-and-brush painting. (Source) A 2,495 year old brush The earliest intact ink brush was found in 1954 in the tomb of a Chu citizen and was dated 475-221 BC. The primitive version of an ink brush found had a wooden stalk and a bamboo tube securing the bundle of hair to the stalk. I wonder what they were using the brush for, if not painting and calligraphy? Handmade emails? Designs on pottery? Custom stripes on their racing horse? Sumi wasn’t invented for another 900 years! Do you know? Send me a note! Ingredients: baby hair future painter Brush – Natural hair brushes are usually brown hair, white hair, or mixed. The brown hairs are from weasel, wolf, badger, pig, mouse, and rabbit. Exotic brushes can be made from tiger, leopard, fowl, deer, and even human hair (a brush made from the first haircut a baby gets is said to bring good fortune while taking the exams). Brown hair brushes have stiffer, more resilient bristles and retain a sharp point while painting. They are good for bamboo, orchid leaves and some landscapes. White brushes are made from white goat hair. Goat hair is soft and pliable, and is good for painting flowers, birds, landscapes, and some calligraphy. Brush Stalk – Usually simple bamboo, but exotic brushes may use materials like gold, silver, jade, ivory, red sandalwood or spotted bamboo. Ingredients: soot Ali Ink – Asian ink, similar to India Ink, was invented over two thousand years ago when carbon soot was collected from the kilns where porcelain dishes were fired. The soot was mixed with animal glue, pressed into a stick, and dried. Since animal glue tends to smell a little icky, high quality ink sticks are made with incense added to the mix, so that when you rub it to release the ink, it smells nice. Artists can buy sumi ink in bottles, but it is still sold as it was traditionally: as a stick that you can rub in some water on a stone with a hollow area carved out. The flat area of the stone is the “land” and the hollow area is the “sea”. The time spent grinding the ink was meditative, and helped the artist prepare their thoughts and their arm, wrist, and hand for making poetry and paintings (Source). Sumi and India ink are both made from pine soot, India ink commonly has a shellac added, so the inks are very different to work with. Ali Ingredients: Rice paper is not made from rice Paper – what we commonly call “rice paper” is actually made from the mulberry plant. Around the turn of the twentieth century, a type of paper made from the Tetrapanax Papyrifer plant was imported to Europe from Asia. This paper was commonly, yet mistakenly, called “rice paper” due to its Asian origins and its bright white color. This paper is commonly used to make artificial flowers, as a sole for shoes and for painting. However, it is usually not used for writing. (Source) The Four Gentlemen The Four Gentlemen refers to four subjects that most painting students learn first because they include all of the basic strokes. They also represent the four seasons: Bamboo: Summer. Symbol of endurance and flexibility. Wu Zhen Chrysanthemum: Fall. Symbol of strength and perseverance. Qi Baishi Plum branch: Winter. The plum branch is the first flower to break winter’s hold. It represents the joy of renewal and the promise of life. Xiang Shengmo Orchid: Spring. Symbol of the bright promise of beauty. Zheng Sixiao So there you have it – a smattering of facts about the high art of soot painting. Got more info for me? Post it here! Ruthie teaches art classes at Seattle Artist League. Click here to sign up for drawing, painting, pottery, and more!