Art: “What I learned” Sumi-e Instruction Class at Animefest, Dallas 2014

All the Anime and Comic conventions have so much to offer any kind of artist or creative. As I’ve mentioned before you will usually find instruction in art of some kind whether it’s figure or doll painting, drawing, manga, etc.

Of course the whole convention is “art” whether you are there to observe the many that are costumed as various characters of sci-fi, fantasy, and animation or to actually participate in classes and festivities.

Sumi-e (Ink Wash painting) is basically simple with just FIVE basic strokes to learn but also has as much complexity, variety and nuances as each of us do as human beings. It’s an art style that can be very calming, relaxing, very Zen. Perfection is undesirable. In Sumi-e painting if it’s perfect then it is ugly because it was not done from your heart and soul and you were doing too much thinking.

In these strokes you are using your larger motor skills of your forearm, arm and even your body unlike the fine motor skills you use in drawing and detailed painting. Making Sumi-e ink from scratch is an art form as well.

We used a brush similar to the Yasutomo calligraphy brush with bamboo handle seen below.

Yasutomo calligraphy bamboo-horsehair brush
Yasutomo calligraphy bamboo-horsehair brush

THE BONE or Bamboo-The first basic stroke we were shown (see image below) was called the bone because it looks basically like a “femur” bone of the leg. It is used as the main body or stalk of the bamboo.

You might have to use your third eye but I got the bone stroke down pretty well. Look at it just right and you will see each stroke looks like a femur. Especially the first, lighter colored strokes underneath.

You have to remember this is practice and we were conserving the rice paper by doing multiple layers while everything was still juicy and wet. I think it ended up a very pleasing abstract design. This stroke is done by plopping the bamboo brush down sideways (holding your tongue just right) and then lifting slightly and doing a long free stroke and then ending up with the same pressure, timing and lift, as you began with.

Not as easy as it looks or sounds. It’s done freely and quickly. If you think too much you are doing it wrong.

Practicing the bone stroke.
Practicing the bone stroke.

STROKES, 2, 3, & 4-I’m combining the description of these like the instructor did in class. There is the thin to thick stroke, the thick to thin stroke and the thin-thick-thin stroke. These three strokes you will see as the leaves of any Sumi-e painting of bamboo leaves. So in thin to thick you are starting with the tip of the brush then gradually pressing and ending with the base. The other two strokes are basically done the same way but starting with the base of the brush to the tip and then tip to base and back to tip.

The thin to thick and thick to thin strokes sound the same but are done with a different feel and a different direction and really are different…hard to explain in words.

I’ll think and send those thoughts out to you and you can just pluck them out of our universe. You are welcome…lol.

Sumi-e is mostly used for landscapes, plants, flowers, bamboo, mountains, lakes, and occasionally animals. It originated as calligraphy writing used by East Asian scholars and literati.

"Twin Bamboo" by Master Ke Jiusi (Public Domain)
“Twin Bamboo” by Master Ke Jiusi (Public Domain)

DRAGON’s EYE-The final brush stroke we learned is the Dragon’s Eye and simple yet elegant stroke that we were shown but didn’t actually practice. Basically you make one stroke in a circular motion with the brush tip pointing out. You are using the whole brush from base to tip for one single stroke. the tip points out the whole time you make a circle. I actually don’t have a good photo of this.

You have to learn what kind of brushes to use, the loading of the brush correctly, shading, mixing, how each stroke is completed in one single stroke and the ink…oh the ink. Indelible, black, permanent and cannot be changed. That is part of the challenge. What is done is done.

More practice. A good placemat or mousepad design...(-:
More practice. A good placemat or mousepad design…(-:

It’s funny but maybe appropriate that I don’t even have the instructors name that taught the class. I can say it was three hours of immersion. The instructors had gotten their training in Japan. Because of limited supplies and expense only ten people were allowed to actually paint, anyone else was only able to observe. I was late. I was number thirteen and then somehow I ended up being number ten and got to paint.

Bamboo by Sherry Key
Bamboo by Sherry Key

Finally we signed it with a signature chop. We didn’t have our own hand carved chop at the ready so our instructor let us use his. One was a flying tomato (very cool) and then a more detailed one that he uses for his signature/seal. They are hand carved by the artist out of various materials like bamboo, etc. Since they are hand carved they are unique and in some cultures can still be used as that persons legal signature on everything from art to official documents.

My instructor's chops.
My instructor’s chops.

The Four Treasures (refers to tools): ink stick, ink stone, brush and paper

The Four Gentlemen (refers to the main strokes) also represents the four seasons: Bamboo-Summer, Chrysanthemum-Fall, Plum-Winter, Orchid-Spring

This was my experience. The universe smiled on me that day…(-:



More information on Sumi-e:

Sumi-e Society of America

Drue Kataoka



7 thoughts on “Art: “What I learned” Sumi-e Instruction Class at Animefest, Dallas 2014

Add yours

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I agree. Something we or me anyway don’t think about sometimes when we are creating. I definitely was in the moment at the time.

      It makes me wonder what other people are thinking and feeling during the moment of their creations.

  1. You may be new to the technique but I love your painting, Sherry. Sumi rather sounds as if it might be the one physical type of painting I could do since you describe it as one that uses the ‘larger motor skills of your forearm, arm and even your body’.

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