Sumi – A Living Ink

The art of making Sumi ink is a treasured tradition passed down for centuries. Sumi is made from the soot of pine branches selected from trees in the beautiful groves on the mountainsides close to Nara and Suzuka. These two regions of Japan are prized for the highest quality ink. In harmony with the environment, Master Sumi Ink artisans create ink from the purest, natural materials.

Sumi – In Balance with the Seasons

Drawing on intuition and experience, the Sumi ink craftsmen make ink when the temperature and humidity are in balance. From Autumn to early Spring, the air is cool and dry; the temperature, ideal. The pine soot mixed with a binding agent hardens properly only from mid October through mid May. Later the ink continues to age across seasons and years.

Sumi – How the Ink is Made

The Master Ink artisan visits the pine grove and chooses special branches to burn with sesame, rapeseed or another natural oil. He collects the soot after the pine resin burns to later combine and knead with nikawa, the binding agent made from animal bone. Tremendous physical strength is required to knead the pine soot and nikawa. Knowledge about the amount of moisture and air to remove from the kneaded mixture is crucial. Passed down from generation to generation, the correct hand position is also a closely guarded technique. A delicate fragrance is blended in.

The kneaded ink set in beautiful wooden molds is ash-dried. Later the ink, wrapped in straw is hung to age. The most desired ink is polished with a shell to give it a fine luster. Sumi ink can be aged for 10 years or more.

Sumi Stick – Instrument of Soul

TheArtist picks up the cool, smooth Sumi ink stick and senses the quality and spirit of the ink. There is a deep appreciation for the time-consuming process that has gone into making the ink and recognizes that great care has been taken to infuse it with the earth's essence. The translation of the Sumi ink as “monochromatic” does not fully capture the rich spectrum of tones in the ink. Indeed Japanese Sumi ink is one of the most nuanced substances in the world.