In the Oriental tradition, an aspiring artist would often learn much of their technique by copying old paintings or exercises given by a teacher, and this is the way I learned the art. The painter works on a horizontal surface rather than on an easel. I paint the pictures and then assemble them as scrolls. I do the paintings as traditional brush paintings are done, using mainly sumi ink on rice paper, usually with limited color, although some are very colorful. For many years I was inspired by the beauty and simplicity which I often found in Oriental paintings, and was fortunate to find an extraordinary teacher, Nobu Yamamoto, in Santa Barbara, who was teaching ink painting. Since part of the beauty was to see the traditional paintings mounted as scrolls, I decided to try to mount some of my paintings that way. Many of the early experiments were not very satisfactory. Later I was fortunate to obtain a book describing the techniques for conservation of scrolls, and from this, and advice from a friend who had taken classes in Kyoto, I have been able to make scrolls which are more like the traditional Oriental scrolls.
The painting is given a primary mounting with paper on the back, and then trimmed to allow a margin on the edges to which to attach the fabric. The fabric has been pre-mounted with paper backing before cutting. Some is a commercial Chinese silk, pre-mounted, and some is silk or other fabric which has been obtained and pre-mounted by me. Once the decorative pieces and the fabric have been glued to the edges, the larger scrolls are given a very narrow hem turned and glued up the sides. Paper pockets are added top and bottom for the hanging pieces, and then one or two additional layers of paper are put on the back. Once this has dried, the back is waxed with Carnauba wax and polished with glass beads, so they will roll up smoothly. The excess backing paper is trimmed. I choose a piece of black bamboo to fit the bottom pocket in such a way that a joint will show at either end of the piece of bamboo. The smaller scrolls will have a hollow piece of reed or bamboo for the top, through which goes a cord for hanging. The larger scrolls have a piece of wood molding which goes in the paper pocket at the top. To hang them, I insert the traditional Japanese metal eyes, with small decorative metal plate, and they are hung with the woven band which is usually used on a Japanese scroll.
Oriental Ink Painting – some history
Tracing the historical development of this art form is a fascinating subject, much too detailed and complex to present here. But a short summary of some aspects of it may prompt some to find more information elsewhere. Buddhist scholars gradually spread their knowledge from India, where Buddha was born in 567 BC. With them came their special interest in writing and teaching. As they came into China, Buddhist religious paintings were often painted or carved on walls in caves, many which were very intricately carved from cliffs. Later, for example in the Song dynasty, 960-1127 AD, there was additional development of more secular art, simply to be enjoyed.
Paper and Silk: In China, until paper was first invented about 105 AD, in the Han Dynasty, often the material on which to write was thin pieces of bamboo, and perhaps other materials. Pictures were painted on silk as early as 455 BC. Silk which has been specially prepared is still used extensively for painting, but I prefer to use rice paper. Paper was made from various different plant fibers, but in our western culture is referred to as rice paper, even though rice straw is only one material used, and not considered the best. There is enormous variation in the quality and behavior of paper for ink painting, and its degree of absorbability makes a great deal of difference in the way the ink goes on the surface.
Brushes: Brushes were developed for doing calligraphy and also painting pictures, and a good brush is often made of several different kinds of hair, very carefully assembled, usually with a bamboo handle.
Ink: The ink is usually formed into sticks from lamp black obtained from burning special pines, or various kinds of vegetable oil, such as sesamum oil. The black material is then mixed with a particular glue, poured into a mold, and allowed to dry into a stick.
Grinding stone: The stone on which to grind the ink stick needs to have special qualities, and information about that can fill a book.