About Sumie

Sumie, known also as Japanese brush painting, is one of the art forms typical to Japan. It is a style of painting characterized by strokes painted with brush on rice paper using black ink. The brush painting can be found not only in Japan, but also in other countries of the Orient, like Korea and China - the latter being the place where it originated.

Painting using brush, ink stick and rice paper has been practiced in China since way more back than a thousend years ago. The technique, first used mainly for making notes, soon became a way of painting landscapes. Used predominantly by priests and upper class, the brush painting focused on calligraphy, landscape and scenes from Chinese mythology.

In those days Japan was a country ruled by many small clans and without any defined religion. In the 12th century, many Japanese priests went on journeys to the mainland Asia, and infuenced by the flourishing at that time Chinese culture, along with many other things, brought back to Japan buddhism and the brush painting.

Having the Chinese scrolls as the guides, the Japanese priests were learning this new to them painting technique by copying the samples. And just like them, their first paintings were depicting mostly landscapes or scenes and figures from their also newly acquired religion.

Following the wide acceptence of buddhism as the main religion, the brush painting technique spread across Japan and entered, gradually, all aspects of life. With Japan being an island plus the long period of time when it completely seperated itself from the outside world, buddhism was transformed from its original shape when it entered Japan and adopted to the still forming, specific Japanese culture. With the development of Zen, also all the other things and concepts brought to Japan by the first traveling monks went through transformations, and with centuries took its own shape - at this time having their own, new characteristics typical only to the emerged unique Japanese culture, among which was the sumie - Japanese brush painting.

Influenced by Zen, sumie focused on clarity and simplicity of expression. It stayed close to the two newly developed Japanese aesthetics, hayku and wabi sabi. The subject of many Japanese sumie paintings were, and are until this day, elements found in nature, like plants, animals or landscapes, and also scenes from everydays human life. There is also the part of sumie which expresses more abstract concepts of life, its bright and dark sides, and is more symbolic in its appearance comparing to the other forms.

There are few basic elements that have to be present in a good sumie painting: line, color, rythm and balance. Line has to be 'alive', and its quality shows when looking at its speed, thickness, texture and color. Colors, expressed by shades of black ( which actually is never black because of the usually slightly blue shade of the ink ) must have depth - otherwise the picture looks flat. The subject of painting has to be studied before the actual painting and not during creation - fixing, repairing, unnecessary additional lines and painting over a sketch shows up in the painting as luck of understanding of the subject, lack of confidence and makes the picture look dead, without rythm, boring and unclean. Empty space is also very important in sumie, and having the whole sheet of paper covered with ink and every spot covered makes a painting not a sumie painting. There is no room for hesitation in sumie - that is why it takes usually several times until the desired painting is created. It can be achieved only by being relaxed and at the same time very focused during painting. In Zen sumie the painter plays a role of an observer, and does not directly express personal self in a painting - otherwise the essence of the painted subject gets lost. Painting as a woman or a man makes the painting 'sexual' and the painting becomes unbalanced. The source of creating has to come from a deeper place than our sexuality. The artists mind should be clear, relaxed but aware, disciplined. Worrying results in failure, but so carefree does.


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