When reading about Asian ink painting, one will encounter many different terms that describe this special kind of painting method. In Chinese, it is “shuimohua” (水墨画, lit. “water-ink-painting”) in Japanese “suiboku-ga” or more colloquially “sumi-e” 墨絵 (lit. “ink painting”). Despite its Chinese origins, it has become common nowadays to subsume all ink painting under the Japanese terms, although there is a small, but subtle difference between the term “sumi-e“ and „”suiboku-ga”. Both describe painting performed by the use of ink on paper, but whereas “sumi-e” just describes ink painting in general, “suiboku-ga” rather is seen as a part of sumi-e – by mixing ink with more or less water, it lays emphasis on shading, different ink tonalities and the combination of various ink tones. In suiboku-ga, the main aspect is to depict three kinds of ink intensities – dark, medium and light – in one single brushstroke.
The Rise of Chan Buddhist Painting and the Birth of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e
The 12th to 14th centuries in China can be seen as the birth years of what would later be known as sumi-e. Starting with the literati, who used mostly or only monochrome ink, it came to full development when some painters consciously withdrew from social activities and advocated themselves to Buddhist studies, mainly of the Chan School. Chan Buddhism had been introduced to China in the 6th century and was revived in the 13th century. Its ascetic, straightforward nature appealed to many scholars.
Introduction to the Aesthetic Concepts of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting
If one gets engaged with the aesthetics of ink and wash painting (Chinese wash painting), one will soon encounter a lot of contrasting principles, which look confusing at first, but those principles are quite easy to follow as soon as they are understood.