Sumi Painting

(Notes from a class at Daniel Smith Art Materials, Redmond, May 2007.)


Sumi paper is very forgiving: It is usually folded by the factory, them creased; the creases will come out when you mount it.

Mounting involves wetting and stretching the paper. Don't worry about creasing the paper before mounting. After mounting, be careful with it.

Chinese watercolour is different from Western watercolour—it won't run when re-wetted.

Leave watercolor to dry for about a month before mounting.

To mount the work, put starch glue on the back only, smooth out the wrinkles, and then glue on to heavier paper.


A “wolf hair” brush isn't made from a real wolf! The hair is often from a weasel; the Chinese words for “weasel” and “wolf” use the same character.

A sheep hair brush really is made from sheep (or goats).

It's traditional to use a sheep-hair brush when learning calligraphy, because it is less forgiving.


It is quicker to use bottled ink instead of griding your own. But grinding ink is good for getting you into a meditative mood. In China, students grind ink for the teacher.


Sumi should be painted with a wool blanket underneath the paper. Synthetic blankets don't work as well, because they don'y absorb the water so well.

If you don't know any Chinese, you can always “greek” pretend Chinese characters...


The work can be “signed” by stamping it with a chop. Don't use black ink for this, because it signifies death. Red ink is traditional, but other colours are OK.

The stamp in the bottom right corner of the work is usually the name of the studio.

Stamp ink is oil-based.

The stamp is carved from a block of jade. For health and safety reasons, this wasn't demonstrated in this class. Awesome Art Supply can make one for you.