sumi e

Sumi e – Japanese Painting

Sumi e is an ancient form of ink-wash painting developed over 2000 years ago spiritually rooted in Zen Buddhism. Sumi e earliest practitioners were highly disciplined monks trained in the art of concentration, clarity, and simplicity. These early Zen Masters dedicated themselves to sumi e as an art form with spiritual intensity through long years of serious reflection and strict discipline. To truly understand Sumi e, one must understand how ink and water interact within the brush (fude) to be able to direct the flow of ink into the shapes of an image. Sumi e painting is not simply colouring in, it’s sketching, shading and detailing all put together into a single brush stroke.

Throughout its long history, Sumi e has been held in high esteem and became a powerful way to teach the values of Bushido, the Samurai Code of Conduct. For the swordsman, composure on the brink of battle had its artistic parallel in the calm and tranquility essential before the fearless release of a brush stroke. Embodying the honorable ancient warrior codes, Sumi e was a metaphor for the world of the courageous Samurai swordsman.

Sumi e basics

A proper sumi e brush has a simple profile, but hides an intricately built core. The inner core of the brush is made from stiffer, more resilient hair, while the outer layers are formed from softer, finer hair. Especially delicate hairs are reserved for the tip.

A common warm up for beginners of sumi e painting is to use the different layers of the brush to develop a shading grade using a single stroke in, say, bamboo. Try to follow along in the following tutorial developed for beginners.

Another similar exercise is using the flow of the brush to develop a more curvy outcome by painting the Japanese national flower, the lotus. The idea is to use the size of the bush to roll the ink around the page thereby creating the shape of a lotus flower.

This type of painting is not for the faint hearted as once you make a mistake, you’re likely to have to start again. be prepared with a large amount of paper and a mindset that you’re painting to become better, not to create a perfect piece of art the first time round.


Images used in this article are credited as follows:

Featured image by AtomicNinja

Other images by SayuriMVRomeicatherinejaoSamael1103arashabedini

All from DeviantART

Category: HistoryInterestingPicturesResourcesVideos

Tags: artjapanesepaintingsumi etraditionvideo

One comment

  1. Thanks you for a very intereseting article. I recently got interested learning sumie painting. As you said its not something that can be learned in a day. I am having some difficulty drawing the leaves. Is there a much simpler way to draw them.

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Duncan Sensei

Article by: Duncan Sensei

Steven Duncan Sensei is the DuncanSensei from! having lived in japan for over 2 years he's gained a love for the country and it shows in his teaching and photographic work.