I don’t even know where to begin with this! I guess the beginning, as Maria would say! 🙂
At Terpsichore at the Tower this year (AS 50) Their Majesties made it known to our Barony the lovely news that our own Baroness Kasha would be elevated to the Order of the Laurel. Such excitement ….and we were all so happy for her. I was kinda surprised since I had JUST made her Evergreen scroll no less than a month before hand — but sometimes this is just how these things work out!
Her Excellency Kasha stopped me at the end of the evening and asked if I could help her out for her elevation. And, of course I was pleased to! I thought she was going to ask about food, having just completed Mistress Genoveva’s vigil at that very event, but no…she asked for a scroll. I was so excited by this. It wasn’t until I returned home (probably because of exhaustion) that I realized that this would be the very first peerage scroll that I’ve been asked to create. I was very honored.
After a few meetings to discuss theme for her elevation and starting a vision board for everything, she determined that she would prefer a wall hanging and something close to 11th century Japan. Whoa. Many of the examples I could find were dark ink paintings without much detail. We determined that a Sumi-e style of painting would work best for this.
I have a bachelor’s degree in fine arts/graphic design. When I was in college…I considered a minor in watercolor. But, for the past 15 or more years, my actual painting experience has been limited to what I can create for the SCA as award scrolls. These paintings tend to be rather lushly colored, heavy handed painting style indicative to that of what you see in prayer books from the 12th to the 15th centuries. There’s nothing ‘light’. There’s nothing ‘air’. There’s no real ‘white space’ about them. They are everything that Japanese art….is, frankly, NOT. I knew I was going to need some help…and, more so, a lot of practice.
I set off to find resources and books. Practice paper, inks and other supplies. Much of the work that I did, in fact, on this award scroll was done in research and practice of the technique of the Sumi-e style, rather than on the final piece itself. I started simple with some online sources such as this one that teaches the painting of “The Four Gentleman” (click here) The plum blossom, orchid, bamboo, and chrysanthemum are very common plants that show up in a lot of Japanese artwork and represent the different seasons of the year. The also each, in their own way, are a great way of teaching yourself how to manage Sumi-e painting techniques since they use the brush in different methods. I also located (and Pinned!) several sources that both Her Excellency and I liked and tried to replicate some of those sources. I had them posted all over my own studio at home to inspire me as I practiced. This was a great reference. Then I put myself to work on the exercises in a book called “Japanese Ink Painting – The Art of Sumi-e” by Naomi Okamoto. I highly recommend this book to those who can afford to purchase it! I helped with a lot of the brush techniques that I was having difficulty with on my own. It also gave me more of the proper ‘feeling’ to try to evoke in myself in effort to get the looks I was after. There are many (what I would consider) silly statements in there about “How the brush creates what your heart is most sincerely feeling.” I mentioned this to Her Excellency Kasha and she chuckled saying that that was a very Japanese way of thinking. In the end, though, the book and my practice pieces sincerely helped me get to a place where I felt comfortable actually putting ink onto paper.
There are many things I learned about the supplies for Sumi-e, so here are some notes on that for those who’d like to try it out. I used both Sumi-e ground stick ink and liquid ink. In the end, I used more of the liquid ink because it was more familiar to me than grinding my own ink. It was also a constant black color — rather than me having to guess (black grinding stone with black ink) how dark the ink was when I made it. I also purchased a pad of rice paper to practice on. I highly suggest using a backing board with a piece of plain felt (cut by the yard from any craft store) between your paper and a backing board. I used two binder clips to hold everything in place, though you could use weights or tape. The felt really helped absorb a lot of the extra water so the pages dried faster and more evenly. Standard bamboo ink painting brushes are a must. If you purchase a kit (like the one pictured), you may end up also purchasing your own brushes. The bamboo brushes hold far more water than a standard brush and the washed ink look is very characteristic to the look of Japanese and Chinese painting. Get good brushes…you’ll thank yourself in the end!
My final scroll was created on a purchased blank. I was happy to find out that the actual rice paper was not as porous as the paper I was using for practice. So, my inks didn’t bleed as much as they had been once I got started. I did end up finding it more comfortable to VERY lightly draw an outline where I wanted to have the basic landscape and sectioning off the portions of the painting. I set myself up to start on a Saturday morning — when the house was empty and I could turn up the radio and be completely undisturbed. I finished 75% of the painting that day in two, three-hour segments. The rest of the scroll was completed over the course of the following week staging myself different parts to complete at different nights.