What is Sumi-e?

Illustator Flor Kaneshiro tells us about Sumi-e painting, a Japanese illustration technique of Chinese origin

Sumi-e is a Japanese word formed by the terms "sumi" (ink) and "e" (painting). It is a centuries-old drawing technique that came to Japan with Buddhist monks from China, and has since been combined with other techniques and original interpretations

In the video below, the Japanese illustrator Flor Kaneshiro (@florkaneshiro) talks about sumi-e, its characteristics and most common uses.

Although, as we have mentioned, the technique originally comes from China, where it is known as mo-shui, sumi-e has become habitually associated with Japan because of the popularity that illustrations with India ink from this country have achieved in the rest of the world.

Sumi-e incorporates philosophy and religion, and its artists represent the essence of elements, without dwelling on the details: it is a technique that does not seek realism, but rather evokes more abstract feelings and sensations in the viewer. This flight from realism means that most sumi-e painters work in black and white, although sometimes black ink can be combined with other colours.

Flor Kaneshiro
Flor Kaneshiro

In learning sumi-e painting, the study of four plants is used to learn the main lines, the four noble plants:

- The orchid, which represents spring
- The bamboo, associated with summer
- The chrysanthemum, associated with autumn
- The plum tree in flower, which is identified with winter

Flor Kaneshiro
Flor Kaneshiro

Learn more about sumi-e and how to use this ancient art to bring your drawings to life on Flor Kaneshiro's online course Watercolor Illustration with Japanese Influence.

You may also like:

- India Ink Illustration with Japanese Influence, a course by Mika Takahashi
- Introduction">">Introduction to Illustration with India Ink, a course by Hilda Palafo
- Introduction to Portraits with India Ink and Nibs, a course by José Rosero


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