Sumi-e Painting 4 Basic Brushstrokes: Lesson 2

sumi-e 4 brushstrokes lessonLesson 2: Learning the 4 Basic Brushstrokes

It’s important to understand that artists study calligraphy & Sumi-e painting for many years before perfecting the techniques. We are just “dipping our toes in the water” to get started. It is always a challenge to learn new mediums, but persevere-it’s worth it!






Sumi-e Painting Lesson BambooObjectives:

  • Students will learn 4 traditional Sumi-e or Chinese brush stroke techniques: pulling, pressure, side & smooshing.
  • Learn & use the Four Treasures of Chinese Brush Painting: Ink, slate, brush, and paper to create a Chinese brush painting.
  • Students will learn about painting bamboo, with an emphasis on the shape of the leaves and the stem.
  • Students will learn how to use water-based art media, such as ink and watercolors on rice paper.
  • Students will learn about the traditional Chinese brush painting concept “less is more”. They will apply this idea to their own compositions.

Materials: Speedball India Ink, bamboo brushes, paper, water cups, paper towels

Resources for this lesson:

“Japanese Ink Painting” by Susan Frame    “The Art of Chinese Brush Painting: Master the simple techniques and elegant strokes of this traditional art form”
by Lucy Wang

Day 2-3: Delivery/Activity: The 4 Basic Strokes (Teacher Guided Demonstration & practice)

  1. “The Brush Dances & the Ink Sings”-The goal of Sumi-e is to capture the essence, or spirit, of your subject matter.Don’t be as concerned with drawing extactly what you see. Sumi-e is a very spontaneous & expressive art form.
  2. How to hold the brush: Hold it upright (90 degrees), with your thumb on one side and the index & middle fingers on the other side.(It is a lot like holding chopsticks) Holding it in this position allows for a greater range of motion.
  3. Moving from the shoulder: Just like in drawing, you need to make your movements come from the shoulder in a loose motion.
  4. Loading the brush: Dip the brush into the ink cup. Use the side of the cup to shape the brush to a point & to remove extra ink.
  5. 4 Basic Brushstrokes: Sumi-e Techniques

    1. Pulling Stroke: Holding your brush straight upright, pull it across the paper. Use your whole arm as you move, not just the wrist. Use this stroke to paint: tree branches, flower stems, leaf veins, cat whiskers, water movements, etc. *Remember to move from your shoulder, not your wrist!
    2. Pressure Stroke: holding the brush upright, pull it across the paper, but as you pull vary the pressure you are placing on the brush so that the brush strokes vary in width. Use this stroke for: bamboo leaves, willow leaves, grass, cattails, irises, chrysanthemums, etc.
    3. Side Stroke: Hold the brush at a 45 degree angle, now drag the brush across the paper so that the ink comes from the side of the brush (this is a thick stroke). Use this stroke for: bamboo stalks, flower petals, leaves, clouds, mountain tops etc.
      1. Loading the brush with 2 values of ink: dip the brush into the light value ink first, dab it off slightly. Next dip just the end of the tip of the brush into the black/dark ink. Paint a side stroke, see the variation in values. This adds interest. Most of the time in Sumi-e painting, this is how the brush is loaded for all strokes.
    4. Smooshing Stroke: Hold the brush upright, relax the handle so it tilts a bit. Push down on the brush so that both the tip and heel are in contact with the paper. Now twist the heel of the brush into the paper. Use this stroke for: flower petals, panda ears

Video “Introduction to Sumi-e Painting – art teacher Mr. Lundgren explaining the Sumi-e Painting & 4 Treasures


Go to Lesson 1: Sumi-e Painting History & the 4 Treasures

Go to Sumi-e Painting Scroll Project

Go to Red Artist Seal Chop Lesson

If you choose to use ANY part of this blog (pictures or written), please link back to Create Art with ME!

  1. Allison N Pitre

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