When I first tried sumi ink painting five years ago, I struggled. There was frustration. There was angst.
In this ancient medium, you grind an ink stick made of pine soot and glue in an ink stone with a few drops of water, then paint with bamboo brushes on rice paper. Sounds simple enough, right? But in practice, there are many ways to go wrong—and I excelled at all of them.
I ground the ink too thin and it dried sad and gray on the paper; I ground it too thick and my strokes ran out early, gasping for ink. I got too much water in the brush and my strokes grew wide and blobby. I moved my arm too slowly and the lines looked tentative; too quickly and the lines skipped and went awry.
But with the encouragement of family and friends, I kept plugging away. Occasionally, almost by accident, a painting would work, and that was enough to keep me going.
water and stone
how we shape
Multiplying the challenges, I soon added Japanese watercolors (gansai paints) to my pieces. And I gradually moved away from the simple lines and white backgrounds of traditional Japanese ink painting toward more colorful and detailed pieces—images involving tricky subjects like animal fur, water reflections or storm clouds. In the words of management guru Tom Peters, I learned to “fail forward fast.”
I feel oddly shy sharing this, but I’ve recently had a breakthrough. After years of effort in which my failed paintings ended up as wrapping paper, I think I may be getting the hang of this. Somehow, the dozen paintings I’ve created this summer radiate a new level of aliveness. The sea foam looks lighter, the flower petals more delicate, the river wetter.
the sea laps the edge
of the page
I haven’t yet put in the requisite ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery. But I’m getting closer. A few days ago I hung a solo show of local Humboldt landscapes, called “Water & Earth,” and I feel it’s my strongest body of work to date. The journey continues, but I am pausing here to appreciate the view.
rice paper moon
pine trees brush
the inky sky
Makino Studios News
Water & Earth: My current show features landscape paintings inspired by Humboldt County’s beautiful wild places. It is on view at Libation on the plaza in Arcata, California through August 2015, along with my cards and prints.
North Country Fair: Celebrate the fall equinox at the 42nd annual North Country Fair in Arcata the weekend of Sept. 19-20. This festive event features 200 booths, live music on two stages, and two parades. My booth will be in the usual spot on G Street near 9th.
Fieldbrook Art & Wine Festival: The following weekend I’ll have a booth at this lovely event at the Fieldbrook Winery in Fieldbrook, California on Saturday, Sept. 26, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Seabeck Haiku Getaway: This fun and inspiring gathering of haiku poets takes place on Washington State’s beautiful Kitsap Peninsula Oct. 1-4. I will be giving a presentation of my haiga (haiku art) there.
Before we were tamed: Thanks so much to all who came to see Tina Gleave and me at Ramone’s in June during North Coast Open Studios and who visited our show!