sumi ink

Sumi Alone

My little studio in the orchard

Not a time to paint with black and white with all this riotous fall color going on, you might say.  And I would agree. . . with the exception of sumi ink, which prepares us resolutely for the upcoming season of dark dramas.

So along with my Muse friends I got out my sticks and sumi ink to doodle and explore lines and shapes and the beautiful warm gray tones you can get with sumi. This was the point when I stopped and did some writing. . .

A line takes a walk

It’s late afternoon and the light is dwindling

But it takes heart and sets off

No time to worry about direction

And the trees tip this way and that

but the line is still walking now

Emboldened by its very own blackness, brashness, ballsiness

Its I-don’t-care-what-you think-I’m-liking-this ness

Til the tiniest seed of doubt creeps in. . .

But does it need color?

And a great weariness takes over. . .

I manage to resist the color, yet contemplate further the doodle shapes. . .

    A skinny snake trying to digest an overly large mouthful?

    Some hearts drank too much at a convention?

    Rapunzel, just off the page, has let down her long hair?

And then, I almost load up a brush with a juicy load of red or yellow, but no! The purity of the sumi must not be tampered with. . .this time.


Devilish to Angelic

The Inktober challenge is stretching way into November for me, because I just don’t want to put my ink away. Here’s the latest.

sumi ink

Day 24: Dig.  He’s probably a nice guy just planting some bushes in his garden. But then it’s possible the shovel has a different meaning, if you know what I mean.

Day 30: Ominous.    Can you tell that I love the dark drama poses? This one was a surprise, since the paper I thought was cold pressed watercolor paper turned out to be something different which acted more like a blotter paper. I almost threw it out, but instead just kept going.

sumi ink and Noodler’s golden ink

So this last one is the result of some hilarity on FaceTime. Son Andrew captured this shot of his brother Ben while Ben was walking around his apartment, with the light shining over his head, creating a statue of liberty or angelic effect.

I couldn’t resist. Perhaps the angelic will serve as a needed counterpoint to the more devilish portraits in this post. (Ben is and will always be my little angel, after all!)

Inktober into November

In the second half of October I on a trip which interrupted my participation in the Inktober 2020 challenge, but I’m doing a bit of catching now. It’s never too late after all and I quite like the habit of sketching after dinner. So here’s some more.

Higgins Red Fadeproof ink, Noodler’s Golden ink, Sumi ink

Day 16 this theme was Rockets so I got out some firey colors.

Sumi ink

Day 18: Trap I’m working from the Sktchy pictures. This was a subtle but excellent choice to convey the feeling of being trapped. I used the warm black Sumi ink to match the feeling tone.

Higgins Red ink and Sumi ink with brush

Day 22: Chef.   My guess is she’s making cannolis here and my bet is they taste pretty good.

A while back I added fountain pens to my sketching armory, and that opened up a whole world of inks which I knew nothing of previously. I ordered samples from Goulet Pens and soon had amassed a large number of mini ink vials which have sat on my table for some years unused. . . until now.

Diamine Grey and Winsor and Newton Sepia Calligraphy ink with brush

For this one I watched the Sktchy video of teacher Arto Isotalo demonstrate his masterful method of wet on wet watercolor. Water has a mind of its own in this kind of wet painting, and if you can surrender to it and be ready to work with all the blossoms and other irregularities, sometimes you get those the most amazing results. I’ve got to do more of these.

My son Andrew continues to blow my mind with his ink drawings. He’s letting me show one more of them here.

by Andrew Cornelis

I’ve had a lot of days lately where I could relate to this drawing. How bout you?

You can see more of Andrew’s drawings here. 

Inktober Continues

I’ve fallen in love with ink all over again, dipping into it on a daily basis. And not just black ink, but colored inks. All thanks to the Inktober challenge and the Sktchy School app and my son Andrew, who decided to do it with me.

sumi ink and brush

Day 7: Fancy The source photo is courtesy Sktchy and the teacher of the day who selected it: Dylan Sara

by Andrew
Day 8: Teeth. Golden, red-black and sumi ink on toned paper with white pastel
Day 8: Teeth. by Andrew
Day 9: Throw (back). Sumi ink
Day 9: Throw. by Andrew
Day 10: Hope. by Andrew
Day 11: Disgusting. by Andrew
Day 12: Slippery. Noodler’s Golden ink, Higgins violet and black inks
Day 12: Slippery. by Andrew
Day 13: Dune. Higgins red and blue inks, red-black and sumi inks and brush
Day 14: Armor. Sumi ink
Day 15: Outpost. Noodler’s golden and Higgins blue and sumi ink and brush

The word prompts are just there to get you going, not to slavishly adhere to them. It’s all about ink-love. But I better get going with Day 16. The sun has already set!

Inktober starts

This is actually the first time I’ve participated in Inktober. It’s a 30 day drawing challenge and every day there’s a different word to serve as a prompt for the art.

Jake Parker created Inktober in 2009 as a challenge to improve his inking skills and develop positive drawing habits. It has since grown into a worldwide endeavor with thousands of artists taking on the challenge every year.

I have all kinds of ink pens – fountain pens, dip pens, felt tip pens, brush pens, technical pens, bamboo pens, etc. etc. which I’ve used and collected over the years. Add to that inks of all kinds and colors. So experimentation was high on my list of reasons to participate in this challenge.

And then my son Andrew Cornelis, who is staying with us now, wanted to do it with me. So now dinnertime is when we show off our efforts, and I will be sharing them here as well. Mine are all portraits done from the Sktchy app archive photos and portrait challenge, and his are fresh from his prodigious imagination.

Day One: Fish. by me. drawn with stick, brush and dip pen
Day 1 by Andrew Cornelis
Day 2: Wisp. by me, watercolor, dip pens and white gel pen
Day 3: Bulky. by Andrew
Day 3: Bulky. by me. red-black ink with dip pen and brush
Day 4: Radio by me.
Day 4: Radio by Andrew
Day 5: Blade by Andrew
Day 5: Blade by me
Day 6: Rodent by me. Sumi ink and brush
Day 6: Rodent by Andrew

See more of Andrew’s drawings here!  More coming soon!

Poetry of Wabi Sabi workshop

Last Saturday I taught the mixed media workshop, titled The Poetry of Wabi Sabi, in Ukiah for the Mendocino Art Association . Wabi Sabi, the quality of things that suggests a natural process, vulnerable to effects of time, weathering, human treatment, yet still possessing poetry, poise and strength of character. We explored this esthetic by making textures, and moving inks and paints in spontaneous ways, collaging papers and more, keeping in mind the words of some favorite poets/artists such as:

Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.  -Salvador Dali

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. – Lao Tse

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.  -Crowfoot

In the following painting I was demonstrating gesso texture and using a stencil with sumi ink. In the Monday Muse Group this week I had time to finish it and write.

lightgesso texture, sumi ink, acrylic inks, stenciled patterns, cricket stamp, on w/c paper

This piece was prompted by the poem:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

                  -Leonard Cohen

and how the cricket gets inside the house and calls to his comrades on the outside.

We live indoors in imagined compliance with the world outside, forgetting to notice the glory of light shining through the cracks. Nature’s sanctity beckons steady and true, even as we pursue the folly of perfection. (my response)

yugenInks on dry gesso texture, writing with a stick dipped in Diamine Silver Fox  ink

Another workshop demo that I later finished. The word yugen, yoo-gehn, is Japanese and means, “an awareness of the universe that triggers feelings too deep and mysterious for words”.  Enough said!

Wabi-sabi: Day Two

wabi-sabiSumi ink and Walnut ink in Antiquing Solution spray on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

Nature has its way all ways
in drips and accidents
swirls and blots
it shows us the mud
of winter rains and rotting leaves

sometimes it stinks
of fungus and rich loam
we wrinkle up our noses
try to stay clean
sanitize our sinks
wash our hands with perfumed soap

while the wind blows more leaves
onto freshly swept walkways
more debris in gutters
more tree limbs onto roofs

and we miss the point

miss the wabi-sabi

This is one of the demo pieces from the Sunday Muse Group, actually three demos in one.  The lesson started out as black/white studies with ink but branched out into the Japanese aesthetics of wabi-sabi: the beauty of the natural, spontaneous, unpretentious yet character filled (and so on).  We started to really appreciate the loveliness of our unintended “accidents” with the inks, allowing more and more randomness to enter our pieces.

The piece pictured here was an example of three methods of ink blob art.  In the flower shape on the left I dropped a blob of ink on the paper, spritzed it with water to splash ink outward, let it drip down the page, which created a stem, then took a bamboo pen to scrape some ink out from the stem for suggestion of leaves.  The shape on the right is a random ink blob created by pressing another piece of paper, monoprint style, over the blob, then removing.  And the line of thumbprints across the bottom are just that!


mothinbramblesSumi ink, gesso and acrylic inks

Wabi-sabi, the quality of things that suggests a natural process, vulnerable to effects of time, weathering, human treatment, yet still possessing poetry, poise and strength of character.  (Many of us folks of a certain age hope that this might refer to us).  It is the quality of things that are indifferent to conventional good taste, maybe even the product of some (lucky) accident.

Wabi-sabi does not profess to be important or the center of attention.  It is understated and yet has a quiet authority.  It may be coarse or unrefined, but in an earthy way, rich in raw texture and tactile sensation.  It is vague, blurry, subtle with earthy tones or smoky hues, infinite glorious grays and browns and blacks and sometimes silver rusts and green browns.

Simplicity is at its core, a sober modesty pared down to the essence, without removing the inherent poetry.

(To learn more about Wabi-sabi, coming to us of course from Japanese culture, you might want to read Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets + Philosophers by Leonard Koren)

. . .or try playing with black inks on white paper as we are doing in Muse Groups this weekend.

As I starting reading this little book, which we’ve had on our shelves for a while now, I kept thinking Yes!  Yes! this is exactly what we are trying to do in the Muse Groups.  We allow natural processes to evolve without forcing them.  We spin poetry out of accidental occurances.  We throw caution to the wind and thumb our noses at artistic convention.  We champion the accidents of art making.  We love soft edges blooming on wet surfaces and do nothing to draw attention to ourselves, but rather take these sublime art accidents as contemplations to dive deeper into new and thoroughly wabi-sabi destinations!

And so, my new love is wabi-sabi. And I set about looking for all the ways to make black ink do the wabi-sabi. . .

. . .like finger and palm prints and painting the ink through tissue paper and rollering it through gesso and more!


the identity machine charges fingerprints as entry fees
step inside, you might be surprised-
starting with sexual identity
yes, the girl kind and there’s more

don’t be afraid
we all have them
embarrassing ones we try to conceal
yet here they emerge in steady flow
on the conveyor belt, mixed in
with Christmas cookies and plastic toys,
the greed you keep stuffed in your wallet
the envy you put make up on
the superiority you alternate with inferiority
never seeming to get it right

don’t be afraid of the identity machine
it will churn out the candies along with the rest
. . .and perhaps no one will notice