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Classical Christian Education for TK-12th grades

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Black Ink Painting

By Leslie Perry, Rhetoric School Art Teacher

One of the hardest things for a new artist to learn is to accept mistakes as part of a finished piece of art. We teach our children to act a certain way and answer a certain way. There is always a right and wrong, correct and incorrect. As kids get older and start to encounter new forms of artistic expression, they see that beautiful works of art most often are achieved by accepting their first marks on paper or canvas as a beautiful part of the final creation. This project was an introduction to accepting our first impulses as an important part of the final piece. Sumi-E is the Japanese word for Black Ink Painting. Emphasis for this kind of painting is placed on the beauty of each individual stroke of the brush. Brush painting speaks simply from the power of its basic inspiration. Themes from nature are the subject matter, but brush painters do not try to imitate, copy or master nature. The students were given a choice of four subjects: Bamboo, Chrysanthemum, Plum Blossom and Orchid. These are known as The Four Gentlemen in a traditional beginner Sumi-E painting course. They were instructed on how to hold the brush properly, how much water and ink are needed to create the look they wanted. The paintings were made on rice paper, which is very absorbent so a little ink and water goes a long way. Too much water makes the image muddy, while too little water creates a more dry texture. Needless to say there was a lot of practice before the students committed to their final paintings. The hardest part for them all was knowing what they wanted to paint beforehand, making a mark and knowing they couldn't fix it. They had to move on. It was frustrating for them at first but they eventually began to embrace the simplicity of the exercise and ultimately, they created some beautiful art.