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.

Tutorial: Sumi Ink Marbling

Marbling paper is a complicated process. Marbling paper with sumi  inks and colored pencils is fun and unpredictable–you don’t know what you’ll get, but it’s always fun. Raw art is meaningful art you make with a minimum of equipment and without kits. It’s art that is uniquely yours and art that makes meaning for you. All the expensive equipment in the world won’t make you an artist. But making something meaningful does.

This simple, unpredictable technique  of marbling paper uses only a black ink. The project that allows for quiet meditation and a lot of fun with colored pencils, aquarelles, regular pencils, ink pens, or whatever else you have. You will need some equipment:

  • Toothpick
  • Soup plate or baking dish (8-inch square)
  • Paper towels
  • Paper to work on (I used 4 X 6 Arches Wove Text, but any  good paper will do.)
  • Sumi ink (available at most art supply houses. Walnut ink or regular fountain pen ink won’t work.)
  • Tap water (Don’t use distilled or treated. Regular tap water is perfect.)

sumigraphtintGather everything on a place you can clean up easily. Stack up two or three paper towels. Make sure the bowl you use will hold the entire sheet of paper. Fill the soup plate or baking dish with cool tap water.

Dip the toothpick in the sumi ink, so you get the toothpick wet. Touch the tip of the toothpick to the surface of the water. The ink should immediately flow onto the surface of the water. Use the tootpick to gently spread the ink on the water’s surface.

Pick up the paper by holding it at opposite corners–one on the bottom, one on top. Curve the paper slightly, so the bottom will touch the water first. Roll the paper smoothly over the surface of the water. If you want both sides of the paper inked, wait till the entire piece of paper is floating on the surface of the water, then gently push the piece under water, pull it out by one edge, so water and ink rolls down the length.

Hold the paper by one corner, allowing it to drip dry. When the paper is no longer dripping, put it on the paper towel to dry. You can use a hair dryer to finish the drying process.

When the paper is dry, use pencils, pens, or colored pencils to pick out and emphasize patterns that the sumi ink made. In the example I made, I use my favorite subtle-color pencils–watercolor graphite pencils, which can be used wet or dry. Derwent Graphtint are wonderful for subtle work, but you don’t need anything more than a regular pencil. OK, you can also use Derwent’s InkTense for their transparent color. Use a light touch, because gentle color works best with the mysterious swirls of sumi ink.

FTC Required Disclosure: I purchased all materials in this tutorial. No one paid me or donated the tools I mentioned by brand name. Links to products are not paid, simply practical ones I find useful.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who believes that everyone can keep an art journal, even those who can’t draw. See her work at RawArtJournaling.com

Ink Painting–Big brush, dark ink

sumi-e bamboo

Ready for some experimenting in your studio? Pick 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.

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 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 in action.

sumi-e butterfly

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and an artist. She develops and runs training programs in communication. She believes art is an important form of communication that doesn’t require words, although words are art in themselves. (c) All rights reserved. 2008-10

Writing and Calligraphy: Related

There is something elegant and deeply artistic about calligraphy. It’s a demanding art–patience, practice, an eye for detail–are all part of learning to be a good calligrapher.

I’ve always wanted to be a calligrapher, but it’s been daunting to me. In my first calligraphy class the instructor told me that I was already too old–that there were not enough years left in my life to practice enough to become really good. I felt crushed. And old.

The second time around, Laurie Doctor, the calligrapher and writer, encouraged me to do anything that engages my interest.Because enjoying art is the beginning of learning art.

Sherri Kiesel's Pressure-release Roman Capitals

Sherri Kiesel's Pressure-release Roman Capitals

Yesterday, Anne Law taught a class at the Arizona Calligraphy Society. It always surprises me how warmly they welcome me, knowing I am a writer and not a calligrapher. Anne had a folder for everyone, and the folder contained everything you needed for the class–practice

and R.B. Rives paper, two special pencils, frosted mylar, and a nametag done in the technique we were going to learn.

The technique, “pressure and release Roman Capitals” is one that Anne learned from Sherri Kiesel. Sherri’s example is shown on the left, above.

The pressure and release technique adds depth. The contemporary look is sleek and nuanced.

The technique Anne Law taught is far more than lettering. First, we used suminagashi marbeling on the heavy R. B. Rives paper. Sumi-e ink is used in this simple technique.

The writing could be done on the mylar, with bright pastel stencils applied on the Rives paper. When the mylar is attached to the paper, you get a layered look of nuanced color and delicate, yet powerful writing.

Some of us decided to work first on the paper. Anne demonstrated the formal technique, then several changes that made the writing dance across the page.

The class participants were generous in letting me take a look at their samples. They were incredible, delicate and easy. My own effort showed all the beginners effort–big letters, slightly wobbly, not quite lined up. I can’t make the letters small because the technique–pressure, release, pressure–requires space for me to master. My letters had a slightly

My first try and pressure-release

My first try and pressure-release

Hebrew look to them, because the pressure also varied the thickness.

Why was I pleased with my result? Because I did not expect perfection. I expected the suminagashi to be provide a beautiful background–which it did, and the stencil work to add a different element, whic is also did. My work that showed effort, and an improvement over my first effort. And that happened. Practice will make it better. That made the class successful for me.

—Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches business communication and personal journaling.

Visit my other website: Raw Art Journaling.

Tutorial: Paper and Ink

Ink and brush are an ancient combination that create contemporary art. These illustrations make wonderful handmade cards. 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.

sumi-e bamboo

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

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 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 in action.

sumi-e butterfly

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and an artist. She develops and runs training programs in communication. She believes art is an important form of communication that doesn’t require words, although words are art in themselves. (c) All rights reserved. 2008.