A modern upbringing, regardless if it is of Western or Eastern origin, is heavily outcome oriented. When we start any endeavour, regardless of what it is, we already envision and strive for a specific product/result. This applies to creating art as well. There are countless art books and lessons, teaching the techniques for achieving a specific goal.
In Sumi-e as in all Zen-inspired arts, there is a dichotomy. In Zen arts, like in any art creation process, intensive practice is required by the artist, but the self, the logical conscious control of the artist, is not encouraged. If the intellect gets involved, then due to the mind’s discriminative thinking, the painting becomes nothing more than watercolour painting. One needs the physical proficiency but must be able to go beyond the confines of the intellect to paint in Sumi-e in Zen style and spirit.
So how does one go beyond the habitual discerning thinking?
Have you noticed how when faced with challenges, one’s mind goes super active? One needs to develop the skill, the technique and the practical aspects of painting so that it becomes effortless and thus easier to take the mind out of the process. Next but most importantly, one needs to find a way of going beyond the intellectual self.
Each individual is different in their ability to “disconnect”. It all depends on the individual’s familiarity with their own space of mindfulness. Artists tend to call it being “in the zone”. While in the zone, one has a heightened sense of perception and awareness which are the faculties most important for Sumi-e painting.
There are various tools included in my “Meditation With the Brush” course* which will help you achieve the meditative state. One of them is following the guided meditation provided. Another tool for meditation is grounding the ink; the process of grinding the ink stick on the ink stone with mindfulness. The repetitive stroke creation with the breath and the body are also a means of meditation. With practice, meditation will become intuitive every time one picks up the brush to paint.
The focus or purpose of Sumi-e/Zen painting is not the outcome but the process of creating while in the state of heightened intuition and of sensory awareness. Being in a meditative state is the only way of tapping into one’s unrestricted spontaneity and creativity. The painting which is the outcome of this practice is a by-product only. This is something that is hard for the mind to conceive. If one is more mindful and less preoccupied with the depiction, the result (the by-product) will surprise with its vibrancy and its transcendental quality.