Balance, clarity, harmony, simplicity. These ideals are key to the art of sumi-e painting. An ancient practice whose Japanese name translates to “black ink painting,” this art form is based on the principle that less is more. This style emerged in the Tang dynasty (618–?907) in China and replaced earlier, more realistic styles as the preferred technique. It gained widespread use in the Song dynasty (960–1279) and in 14th-century Japan after it was introduced by Zen Buddhist monks. The imagery in sumi-e paintings is meant to expose the spirit (called the ch’i) of natural forms rather than their literal likeness. Scholars compare this concern with essence over likeness with the aesthetic ideals of Impressionism. Sumi-e painting requires special brushes made of all-natural materials, and these brushes can be works of art themselves. Many are also suitable for for the closely related art form of Shodo, or Japanese calligraphy. Choose the right set by browsing our roundup below.
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