Introduction to Sumi Painting

Japanese ink painting is an ancient, yet truly enjoyable art form that creates a striking, often monochromatic style. Some consider it a Chinese art, however these paintings are very highly esteemed in both countries.

It trains you to paint bravely, being careful and fluid at the same time. It shows you how to go with the flow and not look back.

Sumi ink stone

Some people use colors in their sumi paintings, even gold paint, but I currently don’t. At it’s essential core, this kind of painting is about deep black ink, a natural-bristle bamboo handled brush, and some nice paper.

One of the really cool things about sumi painting is that although you can buy liquid ink in a bottle, you can also grind your own. Ink sticks are generally made with pine soot and natural glue. You rub them against the ink stone, with a little water, to make your ink. There’s something very grounding about watching the ink form in your stone.

Sumi Brushes

Ink stones aren’t too expensive, neither are brushes, and you only need one or two to start. Paper can be pricy but there are cheap options, so this is an easy thing to try. If you decide to stick with it, you can get better materials.

When you are getting started with sumi, it helps to try making different strokes – the direction your brush moves in, combined with the pressure you use, determines what your mark will be. Sometimes you need to plan ahead with your marks, because you have no way of erasing, but if you hesitate you will put down too much paint. It’s good to practice by trying to copy a simple painting, to see how to make the lines and marks.

Sumi ink can also be thinned out to make washes, like watercolor. If you use the proper kind of paper, Japanese Washi, it will preserve all the fine details you have made and the ink won’t spread too much, nor sit on the surface.

There are, of course, online tutorials, videos, and books to teach you this art, or you can play around and see what you can make on your own. Sumi can even be a form of moving meditation. A common exercise is to breathe deeply and see how perfect a circle you can draw with a single stroke.


I’ve barely scratched the surface here but I hope you can see what endless vistas can be explored.  If you’d like to try too, click on the images to see where to get the supplies.


(featured picture by Pixabay, art materials from