Sumi-e Painting Class

For my last extracurricular class of August I took a sumi-e painting class. The sensei, Toyokuni Honda, has been painting for forty years! He told us that during his first three years he just ground the ink stick (sumi stick) to create the ink for other painters to use. Wow! This reminds me of "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" where the apprentices simply perfect the art of rice-making for the first several years.

He and his son, who translated the directions into English, worked together to show us some basic techniques. The sensei told us that it takes a lifetime to become proficient at sumi-e painting but we would become masters in one class. :)

Our tools included:

  • sumi-ink stick (indian ink)
  • washi (Japanese paper)
  • fude (ink brush)
  • suzuri (ink stone)

He is a bit of a jokester and started us off with this picture. We followed him stroke for stroke until we realized what we were creating.

Then he took us through a few different traditional paintings. Sumi-e is basically about painting from the heart. Therefore, there are no mistakes. You must not focus on the way it looks but on how you feel as you move the brush across the page. It sounds easy but it's pretty hard to do this. 

One thing I found to be very interesting is that landscapes should be painted like people and people should be painted like landscapes. When we painted this portrait we started off creating mountains and a river before it turned into a man. That character in the bottom right corner means "heart" in Chinese.

Another enjoyable learning experience! Check out to see the masters' work.