Around the World in 80 Days: Day 37, Sumi-Ugh

Ok, ok.  I’ll show you the sumi-e work I’ve been doing… but prepare to be underwhelmed.  I’m going to contrast it with the work of my instructor, Sanae Aiba, so you can see why I’m embarrassed.

First, just look at this beautiful bird she whipped out in the manner of less than a minute.  She did this with the grace of an autumn leaf floating gently to the ground on a crisp morning.

Here’s her bamboo.  I kid you not – 15 seconds.  Sumi-e work is not just about playing around with ink.  The idea is that you manipulate the brush stroke to emulate the exact texture or shape of the thing.  For example each bamboo section is one brush stroke.  See multiple greys in it?  That’s because you load the brush with one value of grey ink and the tip of the brush with another value of ink.  When you tilt the brush you get that nice gradation.

Here’s my bamboo attempt.  I’m not horrible at the bamboo itself but getting the leaves right is maddening.  I do it with all of the grace of a three-legged, drunken llama stumbling down that really crooked, sloped street in San Francisco.  Let’s throw in a freak ice storm and give the llama a giant goiter on the left side of its neck to upset her balance just a little more.  That’s what I feel like.  Wanna see more bamboo leaves?  Let’s look at more bamboo leaves.

I call these leeches and turds.

More.

More.

More.

More.  You want to see more of these?  Of course you don’t, but I’m going to keep making them.  On each page there’s one or two leaves that I think are awesome, however, the task is to get a page full where there are only one of two that I don’t like.  When you do sumi-e the painting goes really quick but each stroke has to be perfect.  That takes a lot of damn time to gain the skill to get it right.  I will spend a year working on it.

Here’s some experiments on a few different pieces of paper.  I could be having issues because I’m working on thin, cheap practice paper that makes the ink bleed a little. The little scraps of paper on each side don’t let the ink bleed as much.  It could be that my brush is too wet.  It could also be that I’m not holding the brush right.  It could be that I’m not using enough pressure or that I’m using too little pressure.  It could also be that my ink is crappy.  I’m pretty sure though, that in addition to many of these factors, it’s that the medium is new to me and my hand is not trained.  At least I’ve ruled out that I may have a crappy brush.  Remember the $56.00 brush?  My hand is not trained enough to know the difference between it and a $3.00 brush.  I handed it to Aiba-chan and asked her to do a painting with it to make sure I have a good brush and she made approving noises and painted something marvelous with all the grace of a white crane with wings outspread, balancing on one leg on a stone in the midst of a strong river rushing past.  I have a photo of that somewhere…. ah here it is.

I know he’s small in the image but he was fascinating to watch.

Here’s my most recent lesson.  Of course what you are seeing is Aiba-chan’s handiwork, done with the grace of a translucent silk banner, swimming in the currents of a light breeze on a warm spring afternoon.

Here’s my attempt at the same flower petals.  I call these butts and boobs.

Love,

~S

Hey, have you subscribed yet?  Why the hell not?  Is it because of my crappy sumi-e?

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Bomb diggity Author and Artist.

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