Ink wash painting, also known as literati painting, is an East Asian
type of brush painting of Chinese origin that uses black ink—the
same as used in East Asian calligraphy—in various concentrations.
For centuries, this form of
Chinese art was practiced by highly
educated scholar gentlemen or literati.
Names used in the cultures concerned include: in Traditional Chinese
shuǐ mò huà (水墨畫), in Japanese sumi-e (墨絵) or suibokuga
(水墨画), in Korean sumukhwa (수묵화), and in Vietnamese tranh
thuỷ mặc (幀水墨).
4 Materials and tools
5 Noted artists
6 See also
8 External links
Main article: Chinese painting
Textual evidence suggests that
Shan shui style painting existed during
Liu Song dynasty
Liu Song dynasty of the fifth century.
Ink wash painting
developed further during the
Tang dynasty (618–907). The 8th-century
poet/painter Wang Wei is generally credited as the painter who applied
color to existing ink wash paintings. The art was further developed
into a more polished style during the
Song dynasty (960–1279). It
was introduced to Korea shortly after China's discovery of ink. In
Japan, ink was introduced during the Nara period where it soon became
popular among the upper class. At first, the Japanese only used it for
calligraphy, but eventually, they started painting with ink.
Mountain landscapes are by far the most common scenes depicted in ink
wash landscape paintings. Pictured: Landscape by Sesshū
Asian aesthetic writing is generally consistent in stating the goal of
ink and wash painting is not simply to reproduce the appearance of the
subject, but to capture its spirit. To paint a horse, the ink wash
painting artist must understand its temperament better than its
muscles and bones. To paint a flower, there is no need to perfectly
match its petals and colors, but it is essential to convey its
liveliness and fragrance. East Asian ink wash painting may be regarded
as a form of expressionistic art that captures the unseen.
In landscape painting the scenes depicted are typically imaginary, or
very loose adaptations of actual views. Mountain landscapes are by far
the most common, often evoking particular areas traditionally famous
for their beauty, from which the artist may have been very distant.
Water is very often included.
East Asian ink wash painting has long inspired modern artists in the
West. In his classic book Composition, American artist and educator
Arthur Wesley Dow
Arthur Wesley Dow (1857–1922) wrote this about ink wash painting:
"The painter ... put upon the paper the fewest possible lines and
tones; just enough to cause form, texture and effect to be felt. Every
brush-touch must be full-charged with meaning, and useless detail
eliminated. Put together all the good points in such a method, and you
have the qualities of the highest art". Dow's fascination with ink
wash painting not only shaped his own approach to art but also helped
free many American modernists of the era, including his student
Georgia O'Keeffe, from what he called a "story-telling" approach. Dow
strived for harmonic compositions through three elements: line,
shading, and color. He advocated practicing with East Asian brushes
and ink to develop aesthetic acuity with line and shading.
During the Ming dynasty, Chinese painters Dong Qichang (J: Tō Kishō,
1555-1636), Mo Shilong (1537?–1587), and Chen Jiru (1558–1639)
identified two different schools: the "Northern School of Painting"
(Beizonghua or Beihua J: Hokushūga), and the "
Southern School of
Painting" (Nanzonghua or Nanhua J: Nanshuga), also called "Literati
Painting" (Wenrenhua J: Bunjinga).
Ink wash painting uses tonality and shading achieved by varying the
ink density, both by differential grinding of the ink stick in water
and by varying the ink load and pressure within a single brushstroke.
Ink wash painting artists spend years practicing basic brush strokes
to refine their brush movement and ink flow. In the hand of a master,
a single stroke can produce astonishing variations in tonality, from
deep black to silvery gray. Thus, in its original context, shading
means more than just dark-light arrangement: It is the basis for the
beautiful nuance in tonality found in East Asian ink wash painting and
Materials and tools
Brush rest in the shape of a praying mantis
Ink wash painting is usually done on xuan paper (Chinese) or washi
(Japanese paper) both of which are highly absorbent and unsized. Silk
is also used in some forms of ink painting. Many types of xuan paper
and washi do not lend themselves readily to a smooth wash the way
watercolor paper does. Each brush stroke is visible, so any "wash" in
the sense of Western style painting requires partially sized paper.
Paper manufacturers today understand artists' demands for more
versatile papers and work to produce kinds that are more flexible. If
one uses traditional paper, the idea of an "ink wash" refers to a
wet-on-wet technique, applying black ink to paper where a lighter ink
has already been applied, or by quickly manipulating watery diluted
ink once it has been applied to the paper by using a very large brush.
In ink wash paintings, as in calligraphy, artists usually grind
inkstick over an inkstone to obtain black ink, but prepared liquid
inks (墨汁 in Japanese, bokuju) are also available. Most inksticks
are made of soot from pine or oil combined with animal glue. An artist
puts a few drops of water on an inkstone and grinds the inkstick in a
circular motion until a smooth, black ink of the desired concentration
is made. Prepared liquid inks vary in viscosity, solubility,
concentration, etc., but are in general more suitable for practicing
Chinese calligraphy than executing paintings. Inksticks themselves
are sometimes ornately decorated with landscapes or flowers in
bas-relief and some are highlighted with gold.
Ink wash painting brushes are similar to the brushes used for
calligraphy and are traditionally made from bamboo with goat, cattle,
horse, sheep, rabbit, marten, badger, deer, boar and wolf hair. The
brush hairs are tapered to a fine point, a feature vital to the style
of wash paintings.
Different brushes have different qualities. A small wolf-hair brush
that is tapered to a fine point can deliver an even thin line of ink
(much like a pen). A large wool brush (one variation called the big
cloud) can hold a large volume of water and ink. When the big cloud
brush rains down upon the paper, it delivers a graded swath of ink
encompassing myriad shades of gray to black.
Once a stroke is painted, it cannot be changed or erased. This makes
ink and wash painting a technically demanding art-form requiring great
skill, concentration, and years of training.
Autumn Landscape (Shūkei-sansui).
Sesshū Tōyō (1420-1506),
Four Masters of the Yuan dynasty
Four Masters of the Ming dynasty
Four Wangs, 17th century
Ong Schan Tchow
Ike no Taiga
Cantonese school of painting
Higashiyama Bunka in Muromachi period
^ Wang, Yushu Wang. Wu Zhou Chuan bo chu ban she. Translated by
王玉书.  (2005). Selected poems and pictures of the Tang
dynasty 五洲传播出版社 ISBN 7-5085-0798-3
^ Dow, Arthur Wesley (1899). Composition.
^ Marco, Meccarelli. 2015. "Chinese Painters in Nagasaki: Style and
Artistic Contaminatio during the Tokugawa Period (1603–1868)" Ming
Qing Studies 2015, Pages 175–236.
^ Okamoto, Naomi The Art of Sumi-e: Beautiful ink painting using
Japanese Brushwork, Search Press, Kent UK, 2015, p. 16
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Ink and wash paintings.
Sumi-e Beppe Mokuza, Inc.
Sumi-e Society of America, Inc.
Pine Trees at the Tokyo National Museum
Japanese calligraphy & painting art by a Martial artist.