Why Use Calligraphic Strokes For Sumi-e Painting?

by | Feb 1, 2017 | 2 comments

Since I published my course “Sumi-e Painting  of a Rooster Using Its Calligraphy” I have been getting quite a few comments and questions about the idea of using the calligraphic language or calligraphic strokes to paint. It is somehow viewed as an unusual way of painting when actually, it is the most proper way of painting Oriental art.

This is what I was talking about in my previous two blog posts. I will explain again from a different angle and maybe it will be better understood.

I am talking here about the old, traditional way of Chinese painting. You see, at that time, the only tool for writing and painting was the brush. They would not write their “letters” but they would paint them, as they were not writing phonetic sounds but they were painting the images of their words. Imagine, this was the only way of expression that they knew. When they were painting their images, they were using that language, the language of calligraphy. This language had a certain flow and order to it and was applied to both writing and painting. Again, that’s the only way they knew how to write and paint

Around 500 AD, the Japanese adopted the Chinese Characters, as they didn’t have a writing system yet. They had to modify these characters to apply to their own (different) language. These “imported” Chinese characters are called Kanji. The way of writing and painting became theirs as well and it evolved further.

Now it is coming to us, not only to the Westerners but to the Easterners as well. Eastern art more and more is starting to have a Western flavour. One of the reasons is that less and less calligraphy is done with the brush and so the flow is not developed in writing or in painting. Slowly the description takes over the essence of the subject matter, as in Western art. Oriental painting is now taught not as a derivative of calligraphy, but as a series of patterns and shapes to be copied by the student.

My teacher Tomoko Kodama realized this limitation and developed a method to teach Westerners to paint using calligraphy. She started to teach painting by applying the Roman alphabet and slowly introduced the Kanji calligraphy, to be applied in paintings as well.

So coming back to the main issue here: The proper way of painting Sumi-e (Oriental Brush Painting) is by using calligraphic strokes, calligraphic flow, and energy.

There are many more advantages to working this way. I will show and explain more in my upcoming classes. You will understand even better when you practice it. We are aiming for the experiential understanding.






    muy, muy interesante.

  2. Mary Holtz

    Thank you for a very crystal clear explanation!


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