Friday, 18 September 2009

Sumi ink block

Sumi ink sticks

Sumi is the elongated moulded ink stick we use to grind on our suzuri (similar to a mortar).  They are the traditional way of carrying ink before plastic bottles were introduced.  Sumi sticks are famous for producing the monochrome ink painting from Japan and China with its five shades of colour.

Sumi is made from the soot of pine branches selected from trees in the beautiful groves on the mountainsides close to Nara and Suzuka. From Autumn to early Spring, the air is cool and dry; the temperature, ideal. The pine soot mixed with a binding agent hardens properly only from mid October through mid May. Later the ink continues to age across seasons and years.1.

An ink artisan combines pine with sesame, rapeseed or another natural oil for the sumi base product. The soot from the pine is combined and kneaded with nikawa, the binding agent made from animal bone. The kneading process is crucial and Knowledge about the amount of moisture and air to remove from the kneaded mixture is imperative. Family secrets related to the ink making process are stringently guarded as to the amount of moisture or water and the hand positions for kneading. The end produce has a delicate fragrance.

The shape of the ink is made with wooden moulds as the  ash-dries, then it is later wrapped in straw and hung to age. (up to 10 years) Ink that is of exceptional quality is polished with a shell to give it a fine luster.
Here are some artistic designs on sumi sticks from China found on a visit in 2008 Huainan province.

art shop hefei (1)

art shop hefei (2)

art shop hefei (3)

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