These are my favourite pieces from the workshop, though some others did not turn out as well. Every piece might not work out as envisioned, especially when learning. It took me rolls of practice on the rice paper to improve my brushstrokes (and now I have rolls beautiful hand-painted wrapping paper). Many pieces had ink that bled too far, or imperfect lines; the lesson of sumi-e is to accept the imperfections and to move on. Sometimes when a stroke or painting doesn’t go as planned, the results can still be wonderful. That’s the beauty of art.
Sumi-e painting is more meditative than I expected. The simplicity of working only in greyscale allows you to focus on the brush strokes. As a watercolour artist, I found the techniques similar, though more precision was needed. In watercolours, you have the opportunity to move the paint around, add another layer of colour, or even lift off excess paint. In Sumi-e, because the ink is permanent and the paper is so absorbent, you have one chance to get the brush stroke right. Each stroke must be made with intention and thought.
Returning to watercolour painting after this workshop, I’ve found that knowing the Four Gentlemen brush strokes has helped improve my painting techniques. The cross-connections and sharing of skills is where I find so much value in learning and trying new things.
Sumi-e in Summary:
- Less is more.
- Breathe with the brush stroke.
- Learn the basics, then imbue your personal style.
- Detachment is necessary.
- Appreciate the beauty of “mistakes.”
The most important thing to remember is to make it your own. Do you like looser brushstrokes? More detail? Ink washes? Lots of colour? Art is all about adding your personality, your creativity, your passion.
Interested in learning more about Sumi-e? There are some great videos online and most public libraries have books on Chinese or Japanese brush painting. A great place to start is the Sumi-e Artists of Canada site, featuring Canadian artists.