Drabblecast 208 and Sumi-e
I’ve just finished another cover for the folks over at the Drabblecast. It should be coming out in the next couple of weeks. The story is “Hokkaido Green” by Aidan Doyle. It’s a quiet little story about aging, choices, generational divides, and a cell phone using wish granting brown bear. Great stuff!
This one was a lot of fun for me. I wanted to pay tribute to the artistic tradition in which the story is based, Japan. Some may know that I mostly use Sumi-e ink in f my drawings, this is more based on the qualities that the ink has, and not so much on tradition. (I actually use an ink well, not the stick that it traditionally comes in) Sumi-e ink has a wonderful liquidity, never gums up, and smells like earth in a light summer rain (it’s made from soot). But I almost never use the bamboo brush (i’ve played around with them, but haven’t produced much with them), and my work definitely isn’t zen like. The true sumi-e tradition is one of calm and a spare hand. The challenge in sumi-e ink painting is to evoke a scene, usually of nature, with the fewest number of marks possible. Ultimately it is a form of moving meditation, and true artists of the form must place themselves in a state of relaxation before beginning. I imagine that preparing ink from the stick form might assist in that goal.
In preparation to begin this piece I tried my hand at this a bit, and I have to say that is was quite an enriching experience. Though I didn’t come away with anything I think was exceptional or even very good, I don’t think that’s the point of this kind of exercise. I typically function on the complete opposite end of this spectrum when creating work, energetically sweeping my pencil across a page when I begin a piece, dancing back and forth from the page as I frantically try and narrow in on a good gesture or composition. The then diving in into the piece with thousands of little marks as I try to sculpt out the form of the thing in ink. It is a welcome change to stand back, clear my head, and make one clear, rich, decisive mark, and then making another one. It’s not really about being careful, that connotes restraint, or about being brash, that would be sloppyness, it’s both of these, but also neither. How’s that for zen nebulousness. It really comes down to an awareness of the body, the brush, the page, and the connection between them. Drawing like this causes one to be very very aware of the physicality of these elements. The more drawing I did the more I started to concentrate on the way the brush moved up against the page. Feeling the bristles as they slid across the smooth surface, and feeling the change as the ink drained into the pores. I also became very aware of the my hand and arm and shoulders, and waist, and stance. I wish I could say I became aware of my breathing and my heartbeat, it seems an natural extension, I imagine that is part of the goal, but that would be an exaggeration. In Art school we are taught about the awareness of the body as we draw. We learn that good marks don’t come from the fingers or the wrist, they come from the arm, the shoulder, and if you are working big enough, the whole body. But the aim felt somewhat different, it’s about achieving a good mark, it’s about achievement, or it was for me anyway. The knowledge of the body, therefore, becomes a tool to that aim. When you remove the pressure of achievement or failure, one is able to focus in on those details and concentrate on them with clarity.
I don’t actually know if anything I discovered in this process is actually accurate to the tradition of the art. All I know is what little I’ve read, and the things I felt when doing it, and thought of when reflecting upon the experience. As Hearty White might say, I don’t know, I’m not an expert, I’m just doing it, you can do it to, you don’t need to be an expert to do something, you just do it. If you DO know more about this and want to chime in, I’d love to hear what you have to say.
Well, I have rambled on about this enough. I hope you enjoy the piece, and maybe you’ll give the sumi-e tradition a try.