Sumi Ink, Big Brush

Just for a few days I have to quit working small. I like to work about 4 x 6. Lately I’ve been trying squares of 6 x 6. I love the square format because I’m fussing with grids. To break the spell of squares, I picked up a big Chinese calligraphy brush and an ink stone. Ink and brush are an ancient combination that create spare and simple art. The results make wonderful handmade cards.

Sumi ink and a big brush

With a little practice, the art of sumi-e yields wonderful results. You can leave them black and white or you can add a touch of color. You can buy the ink, or you can buy a stick of sumi-e ink and a grinding block.

The ink stick looks lacquered. It is. Rub the short end against a wet grinding block until you have a puddle of ink. If you live in a hard-water area, use distilled water in a spray bottle to create a deep black ink.

Good ink smells of incense, or at least soot. It’s made from plant charcoal, and some ink sticks smell better than others.

If you buy the fat brushes traditional for this art, soak and rinse the brushes. They are stiffened with fish glue to help them keep their shape in transit.

The basic strokes are simple: hold the brush upright, start with the tip of the

Leaves and stem in sumi-e style

brush, then push down, drag, then lift up as if it were an airplane taking off. That’s a leaf. A stem uses the tip of the brush pushed down and dragged, then pushed again.

The rest is practice. 15 minutes a day yields good results in about a week. The minimalism is soothing. The suggestion of the completed piece is all you need. Your mind does the rest. Creativity doesn’t have to use a lot to make itself known. Simple works, too.

–Quinn McDonald is keeping her excitement in check–the book launch is tomorrow night, 7 p.m. at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe. She is spending half her time worrying that no one will show up and the other half that there won’t be enough food. She also believes this is normal.