On Sumi-e, Ceramics & Martial Arts

I have not been actively practicing ceramics for a few months due to other goals that I have given myself in the Martial Arts , but I wanted to share this little tidbit here. First because I’ve been practicing my own ink painting as it allows for a quick and fun project. And second, because it ties in all my other interests quite nicely. So when I’m away from one I’m not really away, just learning in a different manner.
The tools which are essential [for Sumi-e] are called the Four Treasures. These are the ink stick, ink stone, brush and paper.
Ink Stick and Ink Stone – Asian ink, similar to India Ink, was invented over two thousand years ago when carbon soot was collected from the inside of the kilns where porcelain dishes were fired. The soot was mixed with some glue, pressed into a solid stick and dried. The stick was rubbed in water on a stone with a hollow area carved out [ to create usable ink].
I thought that the connection between the kiln and the ink was quite interesting. I’m sure that there has been study of the kilns and processes that create the best ink. What kind of wood is burned in the kiln. What temperature is it fired to. What type of clay is being fired. How long is it fired. Is it a climbing kiln. Etc… 2000 years is quite a long time to refine an art form and its tools of choice.
Landscape of the four seasons – Tensho Shubun

My attempts are no where near as beautiful or nuanced. I lean towards the graphical elements more than anything else. But its the concept that counts in my eyes and attempts.

Clouds, Contrails and Traffic Lights
I posted the above on my Instagram page yesterday. After about 10 attempts to recreate a conceptual idea. I finally achieved what I wanted in the picture on the bottom right which I thought contained the seed of the idea in the most basic shapes
The inspiration came when my brother and I were sitting at a stop light. He remarked that there were a few contrails above some beautiful streaking clouds stretching off into the distance.  I thought it a nice challenge to recreate the essence of this scene. Ordinary in a sense but extraordinary in its significance in our conversation (which concerned synchronicity and interconnectedness). Traffic lights, contrails, a broad stroke of clouds, the essence of that scene and the essence of myself at that time.

Wow that really transitioned from what I thought it should be into what it wanted to be. It’s all about the brushstroke, which is the essence of the one wielding the brush. Am I tense? Am I shaky? Am I relaxed or confident? So although I am not strictly doing Chinese or Japanese pictorial characters the essence remains the same. It’s the maker turning themselves into visual medium to convey both the meaning of themselves and the meaning they are trying to convey. Is it any good though? If you’ve done your best it doesn’t matter in the least. Oh how smart and philosophical I sound! I’m not anything special. At this point I am just convinced that it absolutely does not matter the medium of expression – Martial Arts, pottery, sculpture, dance, calligraphy, film, writing, painting, playing in the sand, having a conversation, resting, working, pondering, indulging in sadness, raising a family, being a friend, being alive – Not only is there the interconnectedness of all things, it’s ALL the same thing. Do your best & try not to hurt anyone.

My own tools for painting are quite different from the standards. So can I even call it calligraphy or sumi-e? Maybe not, but that is where the inspiration comes from. The philosophy, the quick, sure brushstrokes that leave a mark of both the subject and the object.
The tools consist of –
  • A small handmade bowl to hold the “ink”
  • A hakeme brush made from bristles of a broom bound together to create something of a whisk. The desired amount of thick ink is poured into the bowl, then water added slowly and whisked to the desired amount and consistency.
  • Three cheap calligraphy brushes. They shed bristles a bit but I think they finished with that after a few sessions and being washed. These give the classical look of the brushstrokes of Chinese / Japanese Calligraphy. Brushes are a subject unto themselves. I have done a small amount of research, enough to know that I’m not anywhere good enough to be shelling out big $ for a specialty brush yet. You could spend an entire lifetime working with a single type of brush. Or even longer looking for the perfect brush. Don’t get stuck in the “I cant produce good work unless I have ____”.  You can pluck a few stray hairs from your dog and make a brush and I’m sure many people have.
  • A large round brush (which I have not found the perfect use for).
  • A 2″ Wooster Vintage Effects Angle Brush. What makes it vintage I have no idea. We just happened to have it new on hand for some other project. The angle makes it interesting because you can go from semi thin strokes and rotate it to get a wide 2″ stroke. I love the end of a brushstroke that has the fading and becomes separated. (does anyone know the term for this?) It has synthetic nylon bristles that produce a very nuanced look.
  • Just to have something black to be my “ink” I chose a big bottle of Flow Acrylic. Its non-toxic, does not separate, can be thinned with water to the preferred consistency and it cleans up reasonably well with soap and water.
  • A pad of quality paper. The paper below is quality, but probably not the type of quality that one desires for calligraphy or sumi-e. It is perfectly absorbent, does not bleed but it does warp the paper which I am not fond of.  I believe that this company does make one type of paper that is meant for acrylic.

Some of my attempts. Not much yet but you gotta start somewhere! 🙂

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