How to Use Sumi Ink


Sumi ink painting is derived from Chinese calligraphy. Sumi ink is not actually ink but a combination of soot, lamp black, glue and camphor. The goal of this type of painting is to capture the essence rather than the semblance of an object, and requires patience, balance and rhythm to get the right brush stroke. Basic brush strokes in this are similar to Chinese calligraphy, and painters master Sumi painting more easily when they also know the basic Chinese calligraphy brush strokes.

Things You'll Need

  • Sumi ink
  • Sumi calligraphy brushes
  • Sit with your back straight and feet set shoulder-width apart. Your position is important because it ensures straight painting.

  • Hold the brush shaft with your thumb, index finger and middle finger placed slightly higher than where you normally hold the brush. Use your ring finger and little finger to reinforce the hold. Keep your wrist and elbow suspended and your forearm parallel with your work area. Hold the brush perpendicular to your paper. This posture will take some time to get used to.

  • Move your wrist and use your body strength (life force) to control your brush strokes. Avoid using your hand and fingers, as you do in normal watercolor techniques, to make a brush stroke. Make quick strokes and define the thickness using your wrist and arm.

  • Learn the four basic calligraphy strokes: horizontal, vertical, left-falling and right- falling. Other strokes are variations of these. It is important to note the contrast between heavy and light brush strokes, especially in left- and right-falling strokes.

  • Make free, quick and controlled brush strokes. Your objective is to capture the spirit or essence of the object you are painting. The Chinese call it capturing the spirit or life of the object—creating the poetry of what we see in nature.

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