How to Make Sumi Ink

Written by olivea shure
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How to Make Sumi Ink
Traditionally, calligraphers grind sumi ink sticks into a suzuri stone with water to make sumi ink. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The art of Japanese and Chinese calligraphy begins with the creation of the ink and not when the brush touches the paper. When the weather is ideal, artisans collect branches of pine trees and burn them with natural oils, then bind the remnants together, eventually into the form of a compressed stick. Traditionally, calligraphers grind sumi ink sticks to make their own ink, rather than use prepotted ink, as a way to begin the process of creating calligraphy.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Sumi ink stick
  • Suzuri stone
  • Water

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Drizzle a small amount of water on the flat surface of the suzuri stone. The suzuri stone is a flat stone made of slate with a lowered basin on one end for sumi ink to collect.

  2. 2

    Hold the sumi ink stick upright and perpendicular to the suzuri stone. Place the end of the stick on the water and slowly apply pressure while grinding the stick in a circular fashion into the watered surface. Sumi ink sticks contain a combination of pine soot, oils and a binding agent rendered from animal bone.

  3. 3

    Retrieve some of the water from the lowered basin back onto the flat surface of the suzuri stone with the ink stick. Place the stick into the basin and with a sweeping motion, return some of the water to the flat surface of the suzuri. This is will help to ensure the sumi ink becomes the correct consistency for use.

  4. 4

    Continue grinding the ink stick into the suzuri stone until the grinding becomes muffled and you see traces of oil in the ink. This means that enough oil from the ink stick has been released for the ink to be ready for use.

  5. 5

    Create lighter shades of black and grey by adding a few drops of the sumi ink into additional bowls of water until you obtain desired shades. Working with multiple shades allows you variety when creating calligraphy.

Tips and warnings

  • Wipe any excess water off of the ink stick after use. Failure to do so will result in the ink stick absorbing the water and causing damage to the stick.

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