Sumi-e for Japan

This year we have been doing a “travel buddies” geography for my youngest who is doing kindergarten, mostly because she doesn’t want to be left out of “school” and needed something like her brother. It has been so much fun.  We were approaching Japan, when I had a spark of inspiration. Scrolling through my instagram account, I came across this beautiful picture of a homeschooler painting sumi-e of a crane. It was from a subscription kit, but I did a little research to come up with our own sumi-e project.

Sumi-e is a traditional style ink painting originating in China, but like many things, it was borrowed by Japan. Usually black and occasionally red inks are used. The ink is made by grinding a small ink stick, the size of a small crayon, along the bottom of an ink stone with a small indentation that slopes down the stone creating a well that collects the ink.  Now there are all kinds of colors of inks and all methods of obtaining the ink.  The ink is applied to paper in various stokes to rice paper, which absorbs the ink differently that regular paper, creating that unique look sumi-e has.

Wanting a traditional experience, I was able to find a very affordable kit that had bamboo brushes, ink stick, ink well, and rice paper accompanied by a book explaining how to use them and giving examples of strokes and paintings by various artist. The book was written for adults, as most that I found were, but we were able to check out some from our local library that were more applicable to us.


Japanese Ink Painting: the Art of Sumi-e by Naomi Okamoto

The Art of Sumi-e: Beautiful Ink Painting Using Japanese Brushwork by Naomi Okamoto

The Sumi-e Book by Yolanda Mayhall

I also used this youtube video and this website (sumi-e for kids.)

I first looked through the materials and decided that we should try a bamboo painting as it used only three strokes that were relatively easy.  I practiced those myself so that I would be able to teach them.

So, implementation. First we spent the week before looking through the sumi-e books and talking about the paintings. The day we painted, we watched the video first.  Then we pulled out the black ink stick and made the ink as instructed in the books. It was a fun process for them. IMG_0635After I taught each of the three strokes, and we practiced each of those. When they felt like they were ready, we practiced making a bamboo painting on regular paper before pulling out the rice paper. And after they practiced, we pulled out the rice paper and they made their final painting.IMG_0639

It really turned out well. All three of us enjoyed the experience. I was impressed with how well their paintings turned out.  We found that we enjoyed the card stock paper better than the rice paper, but I am still glad we went through the process of using the rice paper.  We also had to make ink many times as one child in particular was prolific in her art.   It was a nice, authentic experience that  brought a little culture into our lives.

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