What makes Japanese sumi painting so fascinating is that it is much more than acquiring a painting technique. It is in fact a complete aesthetic system that is permeated with the worldview of Taoism and Zen.
If you want to deepen your understanding of traditional Japanese and Chinese painting you should read about the roots of these artistic principles and reflect for yourself how you can translate them into your own modern pictorial language. For this purpose, I recommend the reading of the following sumi e book selection.
As you will see below, some of the books I mention refer to Chinese sources, which is after all the source of Japanese sumi painting.
The Way Of The Brush: Painting Techniques Of China And Japan, by Fritz Van Briessen – This book on sumi painting is a gem for anyone with a true interest in Oriental painting, both enthusiasts and painters. The book covers both parts, technique and philosophy. For the technical part the author worked together with the Peking landscape painter P’u Ch’uan, who illustrates in a magnificent way the handling of brush, ink, composition, etc. The philosophical part is illustrated with paintings of both China and Japan and gives the reader a thorough insight in the artistic values of sumi e painting.
Empty And Full: The Language Of Chinese Painting by Francois Cheng – This book is one of the best sources to understand the Taoist principles of Chinese painting. The microcosmos of ink painting and its major protagonists, Full and Empty, Yin and Yang, Brush and Ink come alive in numerous citations of master painters and through the study of the work of 18th century Chinese painter Shih-t’ao.
For those of you who speak French I strongly recommend the reading of Les Propos sur la peinture du Moine Citrouille-Amère by Pierre Ryckmans. It is a magnificent translation of Shih-t’ao’s Treatise on Painting. The text, which is dense and rich, discusses the most important aesthetical and philosophical principles of Chinese painting. Thanks to the enlightening commentaries of the author and the multiple references from Chinese art literature the book becomes a treasure for study and reflection. The text has also been translated into English by Earle J, Coleman in Philosophy Of Painting By Shih T’ao. Although not of the same precision and beauty as Pierre Ryckmans’ translation, it is a valuable introduction into Shih t’ao’s world available in English.
Three Essays on Oriental Painting by Japanese painter Sei-ichi Taki – This book was published in 1910 and is one of the earliest attempts by a native Japanese painter to explain the features of Japanese painting to a Western audience. The essays cover Japanese painting, Chinese landscape paintng and sumi e painting, and discuss their characteristics from a historical, philosophical and technical point of view.
The book is all the more interesting as it is written by a traditionally-trained Japanese painter that imparted his knowledge and experience at a time when Japanese painting was still very unknown and misunderstood. The 56 black and white plates of Chinese and Japanese painting complete this valuable book.
Some of these books might be difficult to buy as they are no longer in print. But I think it is worthwhile studying them .
More reviews about Japanese calligraphy and sumi e books
| Japanese calligraphy home | Shodo Art Gallery |
| Buddhist Scrolls Gallery | Japanese painting gallery |
| Japanese calligraphy supplies |
| Kanji Art Gallery | About the artist | Sutra copying |
| Kanji symbols | Inspirational kanji t-shirts | Martial arts t-shirts |