Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Technique & Learning – A Short Painting Tutorial


Short Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting Tutorial – Bamboo

Of all painting motifs in ink and wash painting, bamboo is probably the easiest, because it consists of nothing but a few strokes, which makes it the ideal subject for a painting beginner.

If you want to paint a bamboo plant, start with the stem. Hold the brush in a deep angle so that the bristles produce a broad, flat stroke. Start from the top of your paper and move the brush in a quick, energetic movement downwards. The strokes are supposed to be long and slender. Stop at about one third of the paper, and lift the brush. Place it again on the surface in the same manner, only not exactly at the same spot, but a little underneath, so that a gap is visible. This way, you can depict the joints of the bamboo stem. Now paint the second and the third stroke. After this step, you can add one or two horizontal lines to where the strokes meet, in order to accentuate the bamboo joints.

The next step is painting the little twigs on which carry the bamboo leaves. Paint them quickly with the tip of the brush, in order to have thin lines. For the bamboo leaves, place the brush at the point of the twig. Let the tip of the brush touch the paper, then press it down, pull it quickly downwards and lift the brush while pulling, so that the shape of the stroke turns out almost oval, with two sharp endings. Three to four strokes for the leaves are sufficient. If you vary them in size and length, it will turn out particularly beautiful. Note that leaves painted with thick, black ink appear to be in the foreground, whereas those composed out of lighter ink seem to be farer away. This way, you can add a feeling of depth to you picture.

Short Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting Tutorial – Orchid

Painting an orchid means painting with linear strokes. The first step is to depict the orchid’s leaves: hold the brush almost vertical and start with long, slightly bent strokes. By varying the pressure on the brush during this process, you can create lines that differ in size. Imagine the leaves to flow in the wind, therefore feel free to let the lines touch and cross and have them in different lengths.

The orchid’s blossom has petals which are formed like drops; a shape which can be easily reproduced with the brush. You may want to use light ink for painting the blossom, in order to better distinguish it from the leaves. Press the broad side of the brush on the paper and pull it a bit before lifting it up again. If done correctly, the stroke will have a sharp tip and a round end. Five or six of them, arranged in a slightly circular way and with the sharp ends pointing towards each other, the orchid blossom can be depicted. You can also add two or three very dark dots in the middle of the blossom for accentuation. The last step is to paint the orchid’s stem, for which you only need a fine line, painted with light ink, light pressure and the tip of the brush.

Short Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting Tutorial – Chrysanthemum

Painting a chrysanthemum requires a bit of skill since it consists of a lot of small strokes which are difficult to control. The first step is to start with the petals of the flower. You might want to use only the upper half of the brush, in order to make the strokes not too broad. Start with two hook-shaped strokes put closely next to each other. To achieve the hook shape, press the brush down and move it with a turning movement when lifting it up. Now you have the first petals – as soon as they completed, you can start to add more of them, alternating between left and right and moving towards the middle. Allow the strokes to overlap to achieve the voluminous form of the chrysanthemum. By the end of painting, the very first strokes you had made should not be visible anymore.

After finishing the petals, paint the stem with the tip of the brush, in order to achieve a fine line. A chrysanthemum’s leaves are of a distinctive shape and can be depicted by pressing down the broad side of the brush, then lifting it up a bit and – without completely removing it from the paper –  move it with a pulling movement. Repeat this twice, and you will achieve the ripped shape of a chrysanthemum leaf.

Short Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting Tutorial – Plum

The rugged branches and fine blossoms of a plum tree are a rather difficult painting object, because this motif combines many different painting techniques.

The first step to paint a plum tree branch is to start with the branch itself. Firstly, use the flat side of the brush to produce the main line. Press the brush with medium pressure on the paper and move it jerkily,  in order to produce a rather jagged line. Then add smaller twigs to the main branch. If you look at a real plum tree, you might notice that the twigs often stick out in a steep angle. Don’t hesitate to do the same in your painting – it can cause interesting effects when they are placed in an almost right angle to the branch. For the delicate twigs, use the tip of the brush and don’t apply too much pressure. Furthermore, it is not necessary to paint them with one single flowing brushstroke. Stopping between strokes and alternating the direction will add a sense of raggedness to the picture. As soon as you have finished the twigs, you can add little sprigs here and there and start to add the plum blossoms. They are best painted with very light ink and fine lines, in one single brush movement. Make sure the blossoms are not too large and that they are placed closely next to the twigs. To finish the picture, some painters like to add tiny dots in deep black on petals and twigs, thus emphasizing the delicacy of the blossoms.