I thought I would share some of my students' sumi-e paintings, as well as some information about sumi-e if you decide to create your own ink brush paintings.
What is Sumi-e?
Sumi-e is a Japanese word that means "ink picture." The ink is called "sumi." When you put the "e" on the end of the word, it means "ink picture."
Sumi-e is an art form with deep feeling. The point of sumi-e is not just to reproduce the appearance of the subject matter, but to capture its spirit. Therefore, to paint a flower, you don't need to perfectly match its colour and paint every petal, instead you paint the flower's essential shape and try to convey its fragrance and how it moves in the breeze.
To create sumi-e paintings artists use special materials.
The first two are the inkstick, or sumi and the inkstone. In Japan artists had to create their own ink for these paintings.
Artists usually grind their inkstick over an inkstone to get their ink. An artist puts a few drops of water on an inkstone and grinds the inkstick in a circular motion until a smooth, black ink is made to the level of darkness the artist wants.
Next are the brushes. Sumi-e brushes are similar to the brushes used for calligraphy and are traditionally made from bamboo with animal hair.
The last material is the paper, which is usually handmade and generically referred to as rice paper.
Sumi-e artists first learn how to create 4 different types of pictures. These pictures are called "The Four Gentlemen". "The Four Gentlemen" is a term used to refer to four specific subjects (orchid, bamboo, plum blossom, and chrysanthemum) which are some of the first subjects that art students learn. Each subject focuses on a different brush technique. They also represent four seasons and four desirable personality traits. They are called "Gentlemen" because in Japan desirable personality traits were gentlemanly qualities.
The orchid represents spring. The graceful wild orchid corresponds with the Japanese ideal picture of a woman. The orchid symbolizes elegance and simplicity.
The bamboo represents summer. The bamboo symbolizes vitality, enduring strength, integrity. The bamboo has straight, high towering up branches (which portray integrity), evergreen leaves and amazing flexibility.
The chrysanthemum represents autumn. The chrysanthemum exemplifies admirable qualities. Traditionally the chrysanthemum was the royal symbol of the Japanese emperor-house.
Here are some sumi-e examples my younger students did where they painted bamboo: