Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Technique and Learning – What you need to know when Preparing for Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting

The Difference Between the Usage of a Pen and the Usage of a Brush

If you want to get started with ink and wash painting, it is essential that you learn how to hold a brush properly. Be careful to get accustomed to the proper hand and finger positions, because it can be difficult to overcome incorrect forms, once they are learned.

Finger Positions in Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting

There are various ways to hold a brush, but when doing ink and wash painting, it is usually held with three fingers (Visual aid) – the thumb, the index finger and the middle finger. Grab the brush at the middle of the axis between thumb and index finger and let it rest on the pad of the middle finger. The other two fingers do not touch the brush, but rest next to the middle finger. Make sure that the brush itself does not touch the palm of your hand. You will realize that you will have the most flexibility and freedom of action when you hold the brush around the middle of the axis, a bit towards the bristles. Don’t grip it too tightly, because it will hinder you from moving the brush smoothly over the paper. It should rest firmly and lightly in your fingers.

Wrist and Elbow Positions in Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting

In ink and wash painting, strokes are made by the wrist, the elbow and the forearm. The elbow is not supposed to rest on the paper, although it is allowed to place the hand lightly on the surface when painting details. According to which stroke you would like to execute, the angle of the brush can differ. Other than in calligraphy, where one mostly uses linear lines, ink and wash painting includes broad and flat strokes. Therefore, it is necessary to vary the angle in which the brush touches the paper. A brush held in a perpendicular position causes fine lines; a brush held in an almost horizontal line allows the bristles to create a broad stroke. Therefore, it is necessary to have flexibility in your wrist and fingers, because those two are elementary for controlling the angle and pressure of the brush.

How to Load the Brush for Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting?

Ink and wash painting uses a lot of different ink shades. There are basically three shades: dark, medium, and light. Depending on how the brush is charged with ink, the intensity of ink varies. A good brush can actually hold all three kinds of ink tonalities in one filling. If you want to charge the brush, simply dip it into the ink reservoir or the grinding surface of your ink slab. Make sure you don’t fill it with too much ink, because it might cause drops, blots and smudges on the paper. It is therefore necessary to press the brush against the side of the ink slab, which causes not only the excessive ink to flow back, but also to sharpen the bristles into a pointy shape. Another possibility is to wipe the brush gently on a wiping cloth after filling it.

Since you work with more than one ink tonality in ink and wash painting, you will have to use little dishes that serve as your ink palette. Make sure they are white (so that you can control the intensity of the ink tone) and wide enough for the size of your brush. You can produce a palette of different shades by loading the brush with ink from the ink slab, then stroke it into the dish and add enough water until you receive the desired intensity. Don’t forget to wipe the brush on the edge of the dish or a cloth before you start painting with the different shades.