Sumi-e literally means "black ink painting. It is an ancient oriental art form which tries to express as much as possible with only a few brush strokes. This art originated in China and was introduced in Japan by Zen masters in the mid-thirteenth century.

The 4 treasures

The Sumi-e supplies are called the four treasures and include: ink, ink stone, paper, and brush.

The ink is very important. The best Japanese ink is reportedly produced in Nara and Suzuka. The ink is made from lampblack and pine that is burned in a special way. Resin is added to the mixture so it can harden in the form of an ink stick. If the ink is used it must then be rubbed against a damp ink stone (Suzuri). This ink stone is often made of blue stone.

The brushes are traditionally made of bamboo including goat, horse, rabbit, and even wolf hair. The tip of the brush is very fine, a necessary feature for a Sumi-e brush.

One paints on rice paper (washi), which means that you can't change or improve the picture. A Sumi-e painting is a true snapshot.

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