The Sumi-e Brush Stroke

The Single Stroke

The aim of theartist is to capture the subject matter's essence in a few eloquent strokes. Each brush stroke is a meaningful gesture in dialogue with those that have come before and after it. Evoking beauty and emotion the brush stroke invites the viewer not only into itself but also the space in and around it.

Indelible Ink

Holding the sumi ink-loaded brush over the rice-white silk, the Sumi-e artist has one chance to execute the stroke. An indelibly inked brush stroke that cannot be changed nor altered becomes a powerful metaphor for life itself. Each new day is like no other preceding it nor like any other that follows.

The Sumi-e Stroke – Loading the Brush

In Sumi-e, the technique for loading ink on to the fude (brush) is of the greatest importance. The Sumi-e artist must balance multiple shades of ink from the palest grey to the deepest ebony on different parts of the brush knowing they will be released at different moments and at different speeds---all in one stroke. The right consistency of the ink, or amount of moisture needed is not something that can be measured but can only be determined through intuition, experience and skill.

The Beauty of Shading

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a great Japanese brush stroke is its shading. The seamless transition of tones requires the right grinding and blending of ink, as well as loading of ink, and release of the ink. The smooth shifting of hues from deep midnight black to the palest whisper of light grey all in one stroke is analogous to a musician moving one note effortlessly from a powerful fortissimo to the most delicate pianissimo. Sumi-e shading from dark to light or light to dark is the visual equivalent of a diminuendo or crescendo in music. A great musician can lessen or increase the dynamics while maintaining the purity of the note's intonation and character of the sound. Similarly, a Master Sumi-e artist can shade a brush stroke from dark to light while maintaining the purity of the ink tones and character of the stroke.