Swamp Buddha Sumi-e
  In the seventh century, Japanese scholars visited China and brought home an art form that would evolve into “sumi-e” the term for “ink painting.” Buddhist monks adopted the style of painting for their spiritual practice, endowing it with a simplicity and spontaneity to capture the essence (chi or life force) of their subjects.

The four fundamental tools or “treasures” for sumi-e are the ink stick, ink stone, brush, and paper. The ink stick is made of soot and glue that is ground on a black stone and mixed with water to create the ink. Brushes are made from bamboo and animal hair. And the “rice” paper is not made of rice but instead of natural fibers. Beginners usually start with these treasures and later expand to watercolors, varied papers, or even other media.

The traditional subjects for students are the “four gentlemen”—bamboo, wild orchid, chrysanthemum, and plum blossom. Students practice these subjects first to accustom themselves to the art and the tools. Sumi-e artist Yolanda Mayhall equated learning to paint the four gentlemen to learning a vocabulary. Once students have mastered this sumi-e “vocabulary,” they can create their own masterpieces.