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The Sound of One Hand: Reaching Beyond the limits of Traditional Ink Painting

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Four Treasures

The Four Treasures of Study
Article by Tai Oi Yee and Casey Shannon

Sumi-e is inkwash brush painting originating from China over a thousand years ago, and embraced enthusiastically in Japan, Korea and now internationally. The name sumi-e literally means water+ink+painting 水墨畫. 

Ink wash painting uses soot ink on thin mulberry bark paper or silk. Different tones and shades are achieved by varying the ink density and brush pressure. It is not simply to reproduce the appearance of the subject, but to capture its soul. Sumi-e is the timeless unison of the true self and the universe. It is the expression of the mind and spirit of the artist through the Four Treasures (文房四寶) .

Sumi-e and Calligraphy artists have the utmost respect for the Four Treasures:

The Four Treasures of Study
    1. Brush (筆): The ink brush is usually made of goat, rabbit, or yellow weasel hair. The textures are soft, hard or mixed depending on the artist's use.

   2. Ink (墨) :  Ink sticks are made of soot mixed with animal glue, and sometimes aromatic or medicinal powders. Modern artists sometimes use bottled ink as it is readily available. However, there are many preservatives in even the most expensive bottled ink and it can ruin brushes.
Ink Stick

   3. Paper (紙) :  It is not just any kind of paper. It is thin mulberry bark paper (Xuan or Pi paper from China and Washi paper from Japan). It is also generically called "rice paper" in the west though rice is not one of the ingredients.   It is highly absorbent and unforgiving.  The brushstrokes have to be fluid and fast, and mistakes cannot be masked like on watercolor paper.

Did you know? That Westerners call Xuan paper 'Rice Paper' because when The West entered the East, China wanted to keep paper making a secret and told them it was made of rice! 

   4.  Inkstone (硯) : The inkstone is used for grinding the ink stick with water. The four famous inkstones are Duan, She, Tao and Chengni. Grinding your ink before you paint provides you with a quiet state of mind and a way to let  spirit surround you.

This ink stone is an ornate one and very beautiful. This ink slab was carved in a 'cucurbit' shape. This shape stands for good fortune and every success.
These four items are treasured by the sumi-e and calligraphy artist. They are essential to this ancient art.  

Director of the North American Branch - ICCPS 

International Chinese Calligraphy and Ink Painting Society

国際中国書法国画家協会アメリカ支部:Ms. Casey Shannon アメリカ現代水墨画家 

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