goldfish sumi e ink painting tutorial

sumi e brushes and ink stick
sumi ink stone and brushes

A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.
Albert Camus

Many many years ago, we moved to Sapporo city on the northern island of Hokkaido from winterless southern California. I remember quite clearly how the recruiter described the island as "cold as Siberia." We left sunny California on an April day and landed in Sapporo in the middle of a snow storm. It was more of a shock than I had anticipated.

It took me a couple of years to acclimate to the long winters, rainy seasons and extremely short summers. In the end, I left as a better person with loads of warm memories and the spring board for my art, that being sumi-e brush painting.

Much of what we do, can be done without thought. Automatically, we know our routines without having to stop and think about it. It's only when we step out of our routines that we're forced to think about what happened.

preparing the Sumi ink
rubbing the ink stone

Working with sumi ink is all about slowing down and rediscovering those lost moments. It's doing the automatic gestures and thinking about what's happening.

I'll admit that it can be tedious. Who wants to spend several minutes making a pool of sumi ink when you can buy it in a bottle? But then I'm reminded of what my sumi-e teacher taught me: you're leaving behind the thoughts of the day and focusing on your breath, the movement of your body. You're leaning into the now.

sumi ink blot
sumi ink in white dish

So as I lean, I am letting my senses be my guide. I listen to the scratchy sound of the ink and notice the musty scent as the water and ink stone pool into a black, molasses liquid. I've grown to love this slowing down, the scratchy sounds of the ink stone, and the scent of freshly made sumi ink.

Goldfish Tutorial

Supplies: small dishes, asian brushes, water, sumi ink, and rice paper

Place a bit of ink in one dish. With sumi-e painting, black is not just black. The amount of water and the hue of the ink will allow for variations in your painting. So you'll have the undiluted ink in one dish and a puddle of ink in another dish that you'll use for diluted hues.

Wet your brush until all the bristles are soaked and then wipe off excess water. It will take some practice to understand the relationship between the wetness of your brush, the ink, and how they will react to the rice paper. My teacher advised practicing on newspaper to save the expense of the rice paper.

brush and sumi ink
sumi ink and brush 

In the picture above, the dish holds the puddle of ink with a few drops of added water. I am taking my brush and running the edges of the brush along the diluted ink to get a "notan" effect. The tip of the brush will have the darker ink while the upward bristles (being fuller with water) will have a greyer ink.

sumi ink  goldfish wip

Above shows how the ink varies in color from grey to a deeper black. The center of each ink blot is a lighter grey where the upper bristles have touched. The amount of ink that meets the paper will not only depend on how much of your brush lies on the paper, but also on which side of your brush touches the paper. The side of the brush that rested in the ink in the dish versus the side that didn't are both used for painting.

sumi fish on rice paper
goldfish sumi e painting

The image above shows the distinct lines where I've taken a thinner, drier brush loaded with full ink to outline the fish. This is the finished rice paper painting which has been adhered to it's backing and is ready for framing.

This is just an introduction, and I think a video will help with making the process easier to understand. Stay tuned for a step by step video.


  1. You just brightened my day with this step-by-step tutorial. Hmmm, yes, slowing down in the moment of creation the process is part of the creation.

    You've written a beautiful post describing your relationship with this art form--how you came to be introduced to it. Such a stark contrast between your Californian home and your "Siberian" island home . . . it sounds like it would have been a rough weather acclimation journey, but I must admit I'm intrigued by this island now. I'm imagining you, the artist, sitting bundled up on cold long evenings carefully scratching the ink in preparation and then slowly painting yourself another (yet present) world.

    I appreciate all of the information you off here as I sincerely do want to play with these materials. By the way I LOVE your goldfish! :) Goldfish make such lovely art subject and they are so sweet, adorable and fanciful.

    I look forward to your how to video.

    p.s. thanks for being patient with me as my own post for Art Resource Saturday was a little flat due to computer challenges. Your posts are always so well written and illustrated.


  2. Love your sumi goldfish. A great tutorial. Inspiring.

  3. I always loved painting in this manner in school! But I never had the patience to do it correctly!!

    Going from Cali to Winter zone would definitely be a shock! I have no idea where that place is!

  4. I always loved painting in this manner in school! But I never had the patience to do it correctly!!

    Going from Cali to Winter zone would definitely be a shock! I have no idea where that place is!

  5. Very interesting post, and very inspiring. Seems to be a very relaxing way to make the ink. Enjoy your Sunday!


  6. Beautiful! I like Sumi painting too, but am better at calligraphy. Blessings!

  7. your work is beautiful. Love the Albert Camus quote and this whole post in fact. I even like the spot of ink in the dish!

  8. Wonderful tutorial and lovely work ~ Wow!

    Carol of: A Creative Harbor ^_^

  9. What an awesome tute adventure! Thanks for sharing your amazing talent! Happy SS

  10. simply beautiful...Happy Sunday Sketching!

  11. this is awesome! I am so bookmarking this. I received a Sumi E kit like 7 months ago and I have not known what to do with it LOL - thanks!

  12. I love you relate the seasonal with your work, Juana! And very much enjoyed this tutorial. I've not done sumi-e in many years... So this very much felt like a refresher course to me. I feel calm just imagining swirling the ink stick around to make ink... tranquil... peaceful... Happy Day ((HUGS))

  13. thank you for your lovely comments. I'm motivated to get that video up!

    Auroran, no worries with the art resource and thank you dearly for your thoughtful comments on my post.

  14. I love how the ink varies in different shades of grey and black - great technique! Your Master taught you well :-)

  15. Lulu, she was an incredible teacher!


Post a Comment

I very much appreciate your visit and comments.

Popular Posts