Sumi Ink: Not Just for Calligraphy!

art calligraphy painting watercolor

Sumi ink is a popular medium for calligraphy, but did you know you can also use it for painting and drawing?

That's right! When used with a variety of paintbrushes, this affordable, versatile, and rich black ink can create bold, gestural marks; tiny, delicate lines; or even smooth graded washes. And when you use it with your calligraphy pen, you can create so many fun drawings that go beyond just writing.

When painting, sumi ink is especially great for botanical or floral work when you need a break from your watercolors or you just want to go monochromatic for a while. And if you normally use it for calligraphy or hand lettering, it's a fun change to pick up a paint brush and try something different!

I created the paintings and practice marks shown here with Moon Palace Sumi Ink (Amazon) and mostly a size 2 liner brush (Blick | Amazon). I followed the tutorials from artist Annie Mertlich in her "Sumi Ink Florals" class, which is part of our Wildfield Collector's Pack. You can also use Yasutomo sumi ink (Blick | Amazon).

This style is definitely different from the traditional Japanese "sumi-e" paintings that you may have seen in the past - but why not teach an old medium some new tricks? 😉

If you're coming from a watercolor background, sumi ink will be a lovely change from your transparent watercolors. Many people also like to combine the two mediums, by painting with watercolors first, and then adding sumi ink borders or accents.

Ready to give sumi ink painting a shot? Here's a pro tip: dedicate a brush or two for just sumi ink. It will wash out of your brushes with water, but it can be more difficult if you get the waterproof kind. However, sumi ink is so concentrated that there will likely be sumi remnants in your brush, and you won't want to dirty up your watercolors with it!

You can also use a calligraphy pen plus sumi ink as a substitute for drawing with a pencil or Micron-type marker. The techniques are similar, except that you'll get more variation in the width of your lines (thanks to the flexible tines of a calligraphy nib.) You'll also need to be more careful when pushing your pen away from you (like an upstroke when writing calligraphy) so that you don't catch your nib on your paper.

The gorgeous wreaths below were also created by Annie using a calligraphy pen and sumi ink as part of the Modern Calligraphy Summit®.

Want to learn the styles shown in the images here, or need more guidance from a seasoned artist? Click the image below to learn more about Annie Mertlich's sumi ink class in the Wildfield Collector's Pack!

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