Each and every student at Yoyogi Uehara studio has their own picture-book. On the cover, my teacher painted his motto: 一石二鳥 which roughly translates:
“To kill two birds with a stone”.
The book is to be used only and exclusively by the teacher. The students can not draw anything on it, not even write the date. During the class, the teacher will call you at his table to look at him draw on your picture book: you will use his paintings as a model, and try to copy them many times – until he decides it is time for you to move on to another subject.
Traditionally, the subject of sumi-e paintings are plants and flowers.
However Sumi-e, rather than classic representations of nature – as, for example, oil painting – was born as a Zen Buddhism practice aimed at the total annihilation of formalisms in order to free the painter from any rational thoughts and let the artist enjoy the contact with nature.
The resulting vitality of the representation lies much more in the mental image of both the executor and the viewer, rather than on the drawing itself. When you look at a sumi-e picture, you are not staring at a technique based on brush strokes: you are looking at the very dynamic core of nature.
In the pictures below, all the subjects my teacher painted for me as models.
Take (Happa) – Bamboo leaves. Bamboo is the “King” of sumi-e. It is the starting point for every student approaching ink painting; it can be painted in infinite varieties and even highly skilled sumi-e students keep on perfecting their bamboos for over 10 years. Every lesson starts with a “stretching” session that consists in painting leaves. And let me tell you in my defence: it is not as easy at it may seem.
Tsubaki – Camellia. It is a typical Asian flower, and it’s the most difficult subject I had to tackle until now. Trying to paint these flowers is giving me serious headaches lately, so I shall take my teacher’s advice and try not to worry too much about the result.
I will let you know when the camellias I draw start looking remotely similar to those in the picture.