Helpful Hints

Some general rules which will improve the efforts of the beginner.


Sit in a relaxed but alert position. The left hand is on the table giving you balance and holding the paper. If the paper is too close to your body all your movements will be crammed and lack the feeling of ease. If you slouch, can you be surprised if your painting does not have any energy?

Preparing the Brush

The Western student is used to dipping the brush into ink (or color) and beginning to paint; this will not do in Sumi-e. The Oriental brush Is a most versatile instrument that must be prepared for each specific task. Preparation is twofold: loading ink and shaping the tip. What kind of ink do you want, and how much of it do you need in the brush? A burnt black, a medium tone, or a light, shining grey? Do you need to fill the whole brush with it, or do you only want to paint with the tip? In general, beginners use too much ink; therefore, the masters advise: starve the brush.


Sumi-e is truly a dance that involves the whole body. When painting an orchid leaf the whole fore-arm - not just the hand - slides across the paper. When painting a bamboo stalk, the upper body moves into the direction of the brushstroke. We strive for continuity of motion, not speed. If you have accustomed yourself to just painting fast, you have missed the point.


First examine the model you are copying very carefully. Imagine yourself painting it, step by step, and finishing it. Then -- with a calm mind -- paint the picture from beginning to end. This process is called "Heart-Mind Recitation". The memory you acquire is not just a mental faculty. There also is a kinetic memory that comes from doing.


In our effort to become technically proficient we are likely to forget that we set out to spontaneously create something that is alive. Do we experience the longing for the light which is the essence of every plant? Do we feel the pride and self-confidence of sparrows? Do we appreciate the noble character of a rock or a pine? Do we allow that mountain peaks treat each other with courtesy? Do we recognize that trees cultivate friendships, that they observe the attitude of host and guest? To be spontaneous is to admit that the whole world is conscious, that everything is alive. If it were not so, then why would I be painting?