Less is more in black and white

24th February 2006 at 00:00
The Simple Art of Sumi-e: Mastering Japanese Ink Painting By Takumasa Ono Cico Books pound;16.99 hardback

Sumi-e is an art that leaves things out. Its aim is to show the essence of subjects - often flowers, birds and animals - rather than imitate their outward appearance naturalistically.

This book is an unambitious but liberating introduction to the technique, exploring some of its history from the 15th century onwards but more concerned with encouraging readers to realise that they can achieve interesting and aesthetically pleasing results for themselves.

Avoiding colour, but exploiting every variety of black, Sumi-e can, as the author convincingly demonstrates, create a deliberately restrained but very real sense of tranquility and joy.

The section on materials and methods is clear and detailed. It explains the many different kinds of paper - varying greatly in surface texture, absorbency and reaction to brush strokes - and the wide range of brushes that can be used for painting, drawing, writing or blurring.

There is also a wide choice of inks and a further set of decisions to be made about mixing them. Everything from holding the brushes to making dots, lines and shapes is illustrated with large clear photographs. Fish and butterflies, cats and herons, trees and mountains are shown taking shape on the page.

The 15 practical projects in the final section are rather less compelling.

These are concerned with applying Sumi-e to create objects such as greeting cards, decorated cushions, lampshades, chopstick-holders and floor tiles.

These are possibly more attractive to the hobbyist than to the artist, though many of them will produce attractive gifts.

The names given in hiragana characters for personalising the finished work - for example Ethan, Logan, Tyler, Madison, Paige and Savannah - suggest an American readership. But the gently observant quality of the drawings, like the haiku by Issa and Basho that accompany some of them, are universal in their appeal.

Reader offer

The Simple Art of Sumie-E is available to TESTeacher readers at the special price of pound;12.99 inc. pp Tel: 01892 839805 and quote CC195

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