Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sumi-e, Japanese Ink Painting, 墨絵

Without much fanfare,
Alighting on a fragile bow

What is Sumi-e?

Unlike Ukiyoe, Sumi-e is not specifically a Japanese Art. Like many Japanese refinements, Sumi-e Originated in China and was exported throughout Asia. Ink (wash) painting developed in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). According to Wikipedia, Korean Missionaries introduced Sumi-e to Japan in the 1300's (1).

Sumi-e is said to have been the first 'impressionist' art form. The art is meant to convey the spirit of the object, not the form. Only the smallest amount of ink and brush-strokes should be used to portray an object. The Sumi-e artist must understand the feeling, and personality of an object to paint it. Knowing the physical characteristics and painting them is not enough to draw the feeling from the artwork(1). Wikipedia has an interesting anecdote on this theme in reference to Zhang Seng You that you should read, its pretty interesting.

Drawing the Ink from the Stone

The Sumi-e Artist has a few basic utensils. An ink stone, ink stick, water, and a brush or two. The ink stick is often a combination of Pine soot and Resin, (animal glue). A resourceful chap can buy Sumi-e ink in a bottle. Although, like many Japanese Arts, the process is often more important than the result (2).

A artist should of course start with a few drops of water on the ink stone and grind fresh ink from the ink stick. When the ink is the desired color and thickness the artist can dive in to their creation.

Famous Sumi-e and artists you should look at;

Buson Yosa
Musashi Miyamoto


1-Wikipedia Sumi-e
2-Wise-Geek, What is Sumi-e.

Other resources for those interested in Sumi-e;

The Sumi-e Society of America
A Basic Lesson on You Tube

The Artwork displayed in today's post.

1- The bird flying inverted to the bamboo.
This is a work by Seika Tatsumoto (1935-) A Sumi-e artist of Japanese Traditional Style. Purchased at the Kyoto Handicraft Center, Kyoto.

2/3 -Sunflower
-Perched Songbird
These Sumi-e paintings were done by my 6 yr old daughter (トリニテイ), during Japan Week in Spokane, WA. (Originals available for extraordinarily high prices $$$... inquire within!).

All photo's, original works, and comments are my personal property. Please be respectful of the effort I've taken.Your comments are welcome, be polite: No throwing pebbles in my pool of zen.


  1. I have heard of only a couple of the artists you mention. Mostly, I've been exposed to Miyamoto Musashi's work, which I was able to see up close (or replicas at least) at the Shimada Museum of Art.

    The Kyoto Handicraft Center, I think the tour bus took me & my parents there. I only hung around for a minute then ducked off to the Heian Jingu.

    I'm impressed with each of the three images. Bamboo always looks good in sumi-e, and that last one looks very much like a Kookaburra.

  2. The top painting is very lovely. Thank you.

  3. Hi guys,

    Thanks for the comments. I didn't make it to Heian Jingu. We were on foot and made a tactical strike on the KHC. I think it was either our last day there, or close to it. I really enjoyed it, though I certainly would have enjoyed Heian Jingu too.

    My favorite is the bird of course!

    I've seen some of Musashi's works in Ohara, at the Musashi Museum. Talented fellow, that guy.

    I'll see you back here next time.

  4. I love all of these paintings!! I wish I could paint like that!

  5. Hi Anon!

    Thank you for taking a moment to leave a comment! I think this weekend is a great time for you to stop in at your local art store and start your new hobby. You never know, it may be your most rewarding hobby ever. Regardless of what anyone else thinks.

    Thank you again, appreciate you stopping by!


  6. Hi,

    I'm a beginner in the world of sumi-e. I'm looking for the original Shrike painting, so I can find the dimensions and material used.

    Do you know where the original is housed or the even just the size of the original?

    Anonymous Sumi-e Guy

  7. Hi Sumi-e Anonymous!

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a question. I'm very sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

    The original Shrike by Musashi is housed in Kumamoto at the Shimada Gallery. Here is the link to their web page.

    I hope that helps! Good luck!


  8. Your daughter has a future in sumi-e painting!


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