Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Japanese Art-Edo Period

Japanese Art-
(Calendar at bottom of post)

Sumi-e Painting / Art of Japan

Japan is a large island country in Asia, across the Pacific Ocean from us.  It has a very old and amazing culture.  Japan is known for many beautiful woodblock prints, and one of the most famous prints is called The Great Wave, by an artist named Hokusai. 

  (Show The Great Wave and other laminated prints.) 

The kind of Japanese art that we will focus on today is called Sumi-e painting (Sue-me-A).  Sumi-e means “Ink Picture”.  The idea in Sumi-e painting is to use only black ink, a brush and paper, and to use the fewest lines possible to create a painting that feels real. 

Sumi-e painting is very different from other kinds of painting.  For one thing, Sumi-e paintings are done very quickly.  The artists carefully think about what they want to paint, then they use a few skillful lines to create the picture.  In a way, Sumi-e paintings can look very realistic, but looked at another way, you can see they are just a few lines put together.

  (Show cat and bird paintings.) 

Look at these Sumi-e paintings of a cat and a bird.  The artists used just a few marks to create the pictures, but you can tell right away what they are. 

Sumi-e artists try to use just a few marks and very little detail to create a very realistic picture.  The artists really try to show the living spirit of the thing they are painting.  

There is an old Japanese story of a young monk who painted a picture of two dragons.  He showed it to his master, and his master thought it was very good, but asked the monk why he didn’t paint any pupils in the dragons’ eyes.  The monk replied that he was afraid the dragons would come to life if he did that.  The master laughed and told him to paint the eyes anyway, so he did, but right away the dragons on the paper began to move.  They lifted right up off the paper and flew off into the sky.  Here is a Sumi-e painting of a dragon, and one of a very nice monkey.

(Show dragon and monkey paintings.)

Animals and plants are popular subjects of Sumi-e paintings.  Many times the artist will only show part of something, like a tree branch instead of a whole tree.   The artist will think carefully about how to place the subject on the paper, and the shape of the white space that will be all around it.  The white space is an important part of the painting.  Look at these paintings of bamboo and cherry blossoms, and see how much white space is left on the page.

(Show bamboo and cherry blossom pictures.)

Sumi-e painting is often done with only black ink.  Some artists do use color, but they don’t paint in full color to make a scene look realistic.  They use black with a small amount of color in certain places, or they mix a small amount of color into the black ink. 

Traditional Sumi-e painting is done with what the Japanese call “The Four Gentlemen”.  The Four Gentlemen are an ink stick, an ink grinding stone, a brush, and rice paper.  Sumi-e ink comes in a solid stick, and the artist has to grind it in a stone dish with some water to make ink.  

Templeton Elementary School Art Literacy Program

Sumi-e Painting Project / Japanese Art

Getting ready

Presenters, first thing, please sign onto the Art Lit cart sign-out sheet on the wall.  That way we know where the art carts are at any time.  Presenters should only be coming in at a time they have officially signed up for.  Next, please check the Art Lit cart for the supplies you will need.  The tools and the presentation folders should be on the cart, but you will need to take two stacks of paper from the counter – small watercolor paper and larger plain white paper.  Be sure your bottle of diluted black paint is full.  There will be a few extra on the counter and we will try to refill them as often as needed.  You will not need as much red paint, but the bottle should be half full anyway.          

Should be on cart

Presentation folder and laminated art examples, roll of paper towels and a sponge

Desk protector sheets (30)                     Sumi paint brushes (30)
Plastic bottle of black paint (1)               Plastic palettes (15)
Plastic bottle of red paint (1)                  Bag of pencils (30)
Glass jars for water (6)                           Box of extra emergency paper  
Sheets of sumi-e picture close ups in plastic sleeves (30)

Take from counter  -  take a drying rack if you want to, also:
30 sheets of 6x9 watercolor paper         30 sheets of 10x12 white paper for practice

In the classroom, set up the kids’ places for them.  Each student starts out with a desk cover, a sheet of 10x12 plain white paper, a pencil, a page of sumi-e pictures in a plastic sleeve, and a sumi-e brush.  Each table gets one jar of water to share, not quite full.  Kids will have to share paint palettes, hopefully two kids per each.   Give each kid some black paint on the palettes. About half a hole full is enough per student -- when we did sample projects we didn’t need even that much.  Hopefully one bottle will be more than enough for a while class.  (Don’t give out too much.  You can always give them a little more later.)  DO NOT hand out the watercolor paper yet or the red paint.  Wait until after the practice on the cheap paper.  We can only give each student one sheet of watercolor paper.    If a student wrecks their good paper and is unhappy, you can give them a small sheet of regular paper from the emergency paper box on the cart.

The Project

(Things you might want to say to the kids are in purple.)  Try to think of questions to ask the kids as you go along.   Show the students the sample of our project, along with other Sumi-e samples, and leave them out to look at.  This project will be done a little differently.  The first half of the time will be spent on practicing technique on practice paper, then after that the final painting will be done.  Sumi-e goes quickly, so it should actually be pretty fast.  Instead of having a list of steps on the overhead, for this project you will use a series of 3 sheets on the overhead during the practice time to give the kids the idea of how to draw certain things.


Today we are going to make a Sumi-e painting.    We don’t have a lot of time, so we are not going to use ink sticks and grind our own ink.  Instead, we will use black paint thinned with some water.

Sumi-e artists use their paintbrushes in different ways to make different kinds of lines. Sometimes they use the whole brush to make a wide line, or even use the side of the brush to make a very wide line.  To make details in a picture, they make the tip of their brush into a point by rolling it on a plate.  To practice this you don’t even need paint.  Just dip your brush in the water, and then roll it on your place mat to make the tip of the brush into a point. 

Now we’ll make practice brush strokes on the paper.  Get the brush wet, then shake off the extra water, and get some paint on the brush.  When sumi-e artists draw lines, they want to have enough ink and water on their brushes to last the whole length of the line they are drawing. 

(Put the page of grasses on the overhead.)  

First try drawing some long leaves of grass.  Start at the bottom where the ground would be, and draw the whole blade of grass in one stroke.  To make the tip of the grass pointy, lift up your brush so just the tip of the brush is touching the paper. To show how grass leaves twist around, you can draw a leaf by pressing down harder on the brush, then lifting it as you go to make the line get skinnier, then pushing harder again.  The line will be thick, then thin, then thick again, and it will look like a twisted blade of grass. 

(Put the page of bamboo on the overhead.)

Now try making some bamboo leaf shapes.  Bamboo leaves are shaped like long, thin triangles. Start by pressing the brush down enough to make a thick line, and as you draw your line, pull the brush higher so just the tip is touching the paper.  It will make the end of the leaf come out like a point. 

Now try making the bamboo branches.  Bamboo grows in segments that are attached to each other.  Try drawing the thickest line you can with the side of the brush to draw parts of bamboo branches.  Leave a little bit of space between the segments.  If you want you can draw a small line there.  On a bamboo plant, tiny little branches grow out of the places where the big segments connect, and those branches are where the leaves grow from.

To show that something is farther away, Sumi-e artists use very watery ink to paint in light gray.  After using a brush full of ink, you can dip your brush once in the water, and when you paint with it, it will have a light gray color on it.  You can use this technique to make it look like one bamboo branch is in front of another one.

(If kids say the page is full, tell them this is just practice, so it’s okay to paint one thing over another.  Or, if the classroom has a recycling bin of paper, they can practice on the backs of used sheets.)

(Put cherry blossom branches on overhead.)

The last thing we will practice is cherry blossoms.  These tree branches are never long and straight.  They are always old looking with sharp corners.  The lines of the branches look jagged.   Try drawing a cherry branch.  First you draw the thickest branch, then the tiny branches, then finally the blossoms. 

The Final art piece

If there are any paint or water spills on desks, wipe them up with the sponge before giving out the good paper.  Now hand each student a piece of watercolor paper.  Have the kids start by writing their names AND their teacher’s name in pencil on the back of their paper. 

Now we are done practicing, and we are ready to paint our real Sumi-e painting.  First you will need to decide of you want to paint a Sumi-e picture of bamboo, or of cherry branches. 

Before you paint anything, you need to think hard about how you want it to look. 

A Sumi-e painting is done with just a few strokes of the brush, but the strokes you make should be well thought out before you even put the brush in the paint.  Think about how large your bamboo or branch will be, and where it will go across the paper.
You can look at the handouts you have at your desks for ideas.  There are pictures of bamboo on one side and cherry branches on the other.  Remember that Sumi-e pictures leave lots of white space.  When you think the picture is done, it’s done.  Don’t add more than the picture needs.  If you choose to do cherry branches, the last thing you will paint is the blossoms, and you can make those black, or you can color them with red paint if you want to. 

Ask kids to raise a hand if they want red for blossoms, then go around and give them a very small bit of red on their palettes.  They won’t need much red at all.  (And we don’t have much.)

Art Lit Japan Sumi-e Project
EXTRA finishing touch if you have time

Sumi-e artists usually finish their paintings by stamping them in red with a small stone seal.  The seal usually is a rectangle, and it usually contains the artist’s name in Japanese calligraphic characters, but it can also be any word they want.  They carve the seal out of soapstone, and dip it in cinnabar ink to make a stamp.  They carefully choose where the stamp will go on the painting, to balance the composition. 

These are examples of seals.   

Choose the best spot on your painting for a seal.  Since we do not have stone seals, we will draw them ourselves with red colored pencils.

If you have colored pencils in your supplies, please take out a red one.  If you don’t, we have a few to take turns with.

First draw a small square or rectangle, then draw your initials inside.  Try to draw it nice and dark.

Now your Sumi-e painting is finished.


Please count the items before you leave the room (brushes, palettes, pencils and sumi-e pages in plastic), and ask kids to look for missing items.  Rinse the water jars in the classroom sink.    When you get back to the library, rinse the palettes and put them back on the cart.  It doesn’t matter if they are wet.   

IMPORTANT - How to wash the brushes

Please treat the brushes with care so they will last.  Water based paint should wash out easily.  Rinse a few brushes at a time under cold water until the water looks clean.  Never soak this kind of brush in water.  Take the brushes by the handle and give them a couple of hard shakes.  This will knock out extra water and bring the bristles to a point.  Then lay the brushes flat on the rag in the brush box to dry.  (The brushes should not be dried standing up in a jar.  The glue that hold the hairs in the brush can dissolve if the wet brushes are upright.) 

Once the projects are dry, they can go into the folder with your teacher’s name on it.  Folders will be on the counter.  We will mount these paintings on colored paper after they dry.  We will get all the kids’ artwork back to their teachers before the end of the year to go home with them.

Thank you!                                                                                                             February 2018

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