Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Learning To Paint Sumi-e

As I have explained in my previous two posts, we, the Westerners need to develop few skills that the traditional Eastern artists have in them inherently. To understand this post better, I would recommend you to read them prior to reading this.
If you haven't read them already the links are below:



Here are the three essential abilities one needs to develop in learning to paint in Sumi-e style:

1. The use of the brush. Unlike the Western brushes, the traditional Chinese brushes are shaped differently and unlike the Western handling, are held vertically to the paper and the wrist is not involved in creating the image….

2. The rhythm which in the East gets learned and developed from the childhood with the use of the brush, calligraphy and by repetitive painting of traditional motives and copying the masters.

3. The use of the calligraphic strokes for painting. In the East, the strokes in calligraphic writing and painting are similar. The painting and especially of the four familiar motives: cherry blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum (traditionally called the “Four Gentlemen”), contain the strokes, the flow, the execution and the principals of calligraphic writing.

To develop the sense of the rhythm; the flow of Oriental painting, my late Sumi-e teacher Tomoko Kodama introduced a particular breathing pattern into the painting process. She also taught initially the Oriental calligraphic principles by applying them to the Roman alphabet....
I apply many of her teachings in my classes.

I pay particular attention to helping the students to find, feel and connect to the belly (Hara, Japanese, Dantian in Chinese), as the whole process; the breathing, the energy the movement of the painting process originates from there. 

I teach to paint living (breathing) calligraphic strokes and how apply them in paintings or in the art of of Japanese calligraphy; “Shodo”.

Sumi-e is an art form where our aim is not to show the detail of the subject matter, but to show the essence, the spirit of it. I help the student to see… to see the subject matter as if seen for the first time. I have addressed this in one of my older blog posts Seeing With the Senses  I guide the student to learn to take the self/the intellectual mind out of the way to be able to create intuitively.

All those acquired technical and most importantly experiential skills and understandings will help not only to create dynamic traditional Oriental paintings, but also to apply to any other form of art creation. I think I will address that in my next post. 

You must have questions after having read this. Please post them. I will make sure to answer them and/or demonstrate in my classes.

Well... back to work... Indeed a great challenge, but very enjoyable. And please follow my blog for updates.


Thursday, 17 November 2016

Western Path to Learning Sumi-e Painting (part 2)

In my previous post I addresses the obstacles the Westerners face in learning to paint in Sumi-e style. Before getting into describing the method I teach, I have to share some background information that served as catalyst for my teaching method.

As I have mentioned before in various occasions, throughout my life and my Western art education, I have searched for the simplicity…. , not for the easiness, but for that essential that runs behind everything we see and experience; The quiet, yet powerful presence that is in everything around us. Without knowing about Sumi-e and Zen for that matter, I used to dream of being able to communicate in my art what I felt with just few lines, strokes.... suggestions. Initially I perused my dream in my drawings. Through my drawings I discovered what it meant to see without labeling, to draw the experience and only the experience…. to see the subject matter as part of the surrounding; in harmony and one with it….I caught glimpses of Zen ….

It is in these searches that I discovered my late teacher Tomoko Kodama, a visionary lady from Japan who wanted to share/teach the art of creating in Sumi-e style with/to us Westerners. By realizing the cultural differences (some of which I have addresses in my previous post), she developed a unique technique to facilitate Westerners in learning of this profound art form. Later I came to realize that his technique can be beneficial to students with Eastern background as well…. most likely because of the culture's increasing Westernization.

With her limited English Mrs Kodama taught the technique, showed what worked in our paintings and allowed for those of us who persisted in practice, to understand/experience what Zen art is, without ever mentioning its name. When  I showed her my drawings, I was  honoured by her comments calling them “Sumi-e drawings”.

So in the base of my teaching is her method which has evolved through my practice, insights and deepening of interests in Taoist and Zen Buddhist philosophies. I must say that my Tai Chi practice as well deepened the understanding…… All is a play of movement and stillness…. Always changing

......It looks like I am going to keep you in suspense again, but I thought it would be helpful to understand the background of my method that I will be using in my upcoming online classes. I will be able to go deeper in my next post.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Western Path to Learning Sumi-e Painting (part 1)



The art of painting and writing In China which was later adopted by Japan, Korea and Vietnam, developed together.The main reason was that calligraphic characters themselves were paintings/pictures/ideograms. So from childhood one would learn to write characters that originally represented images. To write…. actually, to paint (because the tool for writing traditionally is a brush) these characters requires learning the use the brush and the ink and also the strokes that compose them.

We see often four main subjects in oriental paintings. These are Cherry tree with blossoms, Orchid, a particular orchid that grows in the East, Bamboo and Chrysanthemum. Besides representing the four seasons, four elements and special gentlemen-like attributes, painting those subjects one would also need to use  the strokes used in the calligraphy itself.... As you can see there is a very fine line between oriental painting and writing.

In the East, learning to paint was primarily done by repetitive copying the masters. Having already had a good knowledge of using the ink and the brush, by copying the masters, the student would not only learn the composition and structure, but also attempt to understand and the state of the mind and the spirit of the master.

Through these repetitive imitations, the student/artist would develop also a special kind of a flow/rhythm of painting and writing. This rhythm reflects in their artistic expression and can be observed in the successful paintings, as every element of the painting work harmoniously together.

Now as a Westerner, without the background experience of the brush and ink writing, the aesthetics and cultural background, how do we learn to paint in Sumi-e style and spirit? How can the Western student learn this, without the experiential knowledge of the strokes, the images, the subject matter….and I must emphasize also, without understanding the Eastern philosophical principals.

All the available classes and the books on teaching Sumi-e mainly focus on showing how to paint patterns of these subjects. Most of the Sumi-e teachers have oriental background.Many do have that deep knowledge of the ink, the line and the rhythm inherently, but how can they actually transmit this to those from totally different cultural background? As for the Western teachers of Sumi-e, many of them use the brush and the ink like watercolours, resulting in black watercolour paintings of oriental motives….

I will be taking from here in my next blog post, where I will be describibg the method I use and will be using to teach in my upcoming online classes. 

Follow my blog to receive the update....Meanwhile I invite you, if you haven't done that already, to visit my website.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Why Do I Paint Sumi-e


As promised in my previous blog post, I am sharing my thoughts on why I like painting in Sumi-e style and spirit. I could write a book on this and no matter what I say, I will not do justice to it.

To keep it simple, throughout the years of art schooling at Concordia University and studying the Masters works, most of the time I felt overwhelmed by the profusion of information depicted in them… all those colours, lines, nuances, details.... Of course I admired the skilfulness and the mastery of the artist, but personally most of the time much more enjoyed the viridity of the sketches and studies the Masters created for practice or for use in their composition of the final paintings. Those sketches are fresh and alive. They carry the energy and the mood of the subject…. all is there for the experience, nothing more is needed…. for me.

I think, when we look at a painting and if the artist is successful, what we notice at first is that energy, the essential. In my opinion, the painting is successful when the Master succeeds to transmit that essential energy in his/her artwork. Unfortunately often that energy ends up being lost in the extensive and sometimes (for me) excessive information and description. Of course, I am not underestimating the skill and the mastery of these “excesses”.

I have felt that there is excess not only in art but in life as well. So, I have searched for ways of drawing or painting that shows what is the inherent essence of the subject matter. As, in my life, I sought for the essential in life's chatter and excessive detail.

Sumi-e and its supporting philosophies gave me the inner understanding, the ability to see beyond the detail and the language to communicate that. Through Sumi-e painting I have not only found access to the subtle world around me, but most importantly, within. For me Sumi-e is not a technique, a way of creating an artwork but a way of living.

In my classes, and in upcoming online  classes, I aim to teach the art of painting and the art of living Sumi-e......


Friday, 9 September 2016

Why Do You Want To Learn Sumi-e Painting?





I have been painting and drawing in a Zen-influenced way or should I say my life and art has been influenced by Zen for many years now. I think I have came to understand (more or less of course) as to what it is that appeals to me about living and creating this way. I will explain this as much as possible with words, but later….. I want to hear from You!

Have been approached by many wanting to learn this way of creating. I have recognized and experienced the great transformational value of being able to create with this frame of mind and spirit and thus have decided to embark on an endeavour to create Sumi-e online classes.

While I am working on the texts and videos for the course and as I can only speak for myself, I can't help but wonder as to what is it about Sumi-e that attracts the others, that is You, the reader of this post, my past and present students... Understanding this will help me better formulate my lessons and be able to help you to discern (perceive?) my teachings deeper ….which will be reflected in your artwork and maybe life…

So what is it about Sumi-e paintings that appeal to you ?

Why would you want to paint in this style?

Any misgivings or reservations about it?

Any other thoughts or feelings?

I will share with you my own feelings in my next post.

Can't wait to hear from you.


Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Return to Blogging With New Inspirations


After a long break from Blogging, I am back. It did indeed take a lot of time and energy from me to write them, as every sentence I wrote was coming through me, from depth; a place where usually I don't visit often with my mind. I am there though when I paint, meditate or am in nature. Being a visual person, I find words don't do justice and don't really bring out the true essence of the feelings, the emotions and the experiential understanding of what I want to share. I had the same sentiments in my first blog post http://lilithohan.blogspot.ca/ …..it hasn't changed.

The reason I have decided to revisit the blogging platform, is because of great interest from my viewers to learn to paint in Zen spirit. I have decided to attempt to teach it online. There is much much more to teaching Sumi-e than demonstrating the technique and using  materials. My most important mission is to take my students to the deeper, experiential understanding of the practice and for this, besides doing demonstrations, I need to express myself verbally in attempt of explaining the unexplainable….. Back to the challenge :)

I have interpreted only 29 verses, of 81 of “Tao Te Ching” from the artist's point of view. I would like to do them all, but will need to focus on my project. Will come back to it when I get my classes active and going.

So from now the blog posts will become more and more in support of teaching/learning to paint and to see…... as John Daido Loori Roshi puts it, to be “hearing with the eyes, seeing with the ears”

Your input on what you would like to see, read in my posts and in upcoming lessons will be extremely valuable


Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Not Forcing "Tao Te Ching" verse 29 for Artists



Verse 29*
Those who wish to take the world and control it
I see that they cannot succeed
The world is a sacred instrument
One cannot control it
The one who controls it will fail
The one who grasps it will lose

Because all things:
Either lead or follow
Either blow hot or cold
Either have strength or weakness
Either have ownership or take by force

Therefore the sage:
Eliminates extremes
Eliminates excess
Eliminates arrogance


We have been raised with the notion that in order to achieve anything, to get anywhere, we have to take charge, take action. That's the reason why most of us feel as if we are carrying the world upon our shoulders.... So much effort is taken to accomplish things, and yet we never feel we are really there. We have lost touch with nature, the natural, the Tao. We (arrogantly) think that it is we who are in charge of everything..... pretty big shoes to fill :)

We are becoming more and more aware of the impact this has on our planet....

Life, in our minds, seems to be so chaotic, and we think we can control it. Lao Tzu's message here, is that the world around us including ourselves, is perfect and controlling it only makes things worse. Everything rises from the chaos, and regardless of us it is perfect.

For the artist, often in the discussions it comes up how much of a struggle and a hardship it is to create. Actually, some think it is a prerequisite for creating. But isn't it interesting how our best artwork happens when we let go of the control, when we just let it happen through us and not against us?

I think the way we experience the world around us and the way we create is a choice. After all, we are here to experience life and create (man is always creating; whether it be so called “art” or anything else). We are all different in our approach, but it is our choice which path we take. If we are wise, we will chose to go with and not against the current of Life: Tao.

In my personal experience... when I get that feeling of tension, this unpleasant tight sensation inside when I paint Sumi-e, draw.....or just go on with my day, I know that I am forcing something....coming off of the path. 

*Translation by Derek Lin