Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Technique and Learning – The Finishing Touch on an Artwork

What is the Meaning of the Seal on an Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Artwork?

An ink painting is only fully complete when a seal is added to the finished painting. A seal is like a painter’s signature and comes usually in square or circular forms. Depending on the size and shape of the seal, it is either placed in a corner (large, square seals), or on the sides of the painting (circular, oval or irregular shapes). A name seal is usually square, where as other shapes can bear little messages.

In former times, not only the artists themselves, but also collectors used to place their seals on works. A painting of Zhao Mengfu from the Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368) illustrates best how often this piece of art must have changed its owner.

If you want to complete your picture, you need a seal and seal ink. The seal ink is usually quite stiff when it is new, so you might want to lift and whip the surface a bit with a small wooden stick to loosen and soften the seal ink. Be careful not to get any on your hands, because you might touch your painting and leave red smudges.

After preparing the seal ink, take your seal and press it against the ink surface. You may have to dab and press for several times to make sure the ink covers all of the seal’s surface and crevices. If you are content with the amount of ink, take the seal, check if it’s the right way around and press it against the paper. Be careful not to slip when moving it a bit to ensure the seal to cover the paper evenly. Lift the seal up, and you are done.

What is the Meaning of the Inscription on an Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Artwork?

Calligraphy and painting have a close connection – it is therefore not unusual to combine one with the other. In painting history, painters had sometimes added their names, the date and place where they had created their work. In the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), artists started to add inscriptions to their works which were often poems or expressions of their inner feelings. Inscriptions are – according to the Asian reading direction – commonly placed in the upper right corner of the picture and written from top to bottom and left to right.

When it comes to providing your picture with an inscription, are basically no rules. It’s up to you to add one, but it’s also perfectly fine not to do so, and let your painting speak for itself.