The art of omission

Sumi-e (墨絵) is a traditional Japanese painting technique characterized by the use of black ink (sumi) on paper or silk. The term "sumi-e" is made up of the words "sumi" (ink) and "e" (image) and literally means "ink image". This art form has its roots in Chinese ink painting and was brought to Japan by Zen monks in the 14th century, where it was further developed.

Characteristics of Sumi-e

  • Simple materials: The main materials are black ink, water, brushes and paper or silk. Colors are created by diluting the ink with water.
  • Minimalism: Sumi-e is characterized by simplicity and economy. Often only a few, but precise brushstrokes are used to capture the essence of a motif.
  • Choice of motif: Common motifs include images of nature such as bamboo, orchids, pine trees and plum blossoms, as well as landscapes and animals. These themes are often associated with deep symbolic meaning.
  • Technique and expression: Sumi-e art emphasizes the quality and variation of the brushstrokes. These are intended to express not only the outward appearance, but also the inner spirit and essence of the subject.


Philosophy of Sumi-e

Sumi-e is strongly influenced by Zen philosophy. It is not only about depicting the outer form, but also about capturing the inner nature and essence of the subject. The process of painting is seen as a meditative practice that requires calm and concentration. 

Historical background of Sumi-e

Sumi-e was originally practiced by Chinese Buddhist monks and brought to Japan, where it was further developed by Zen monks. Over the centuries, it was adopted by Japanese painters and is now a respected art form with both traditional and modern interpretations.

Traditionelle Tuschemalerei mit Pinsel - Sumi-e
Traditionelle Tuschemalerei mit Pinsel - Sumi-e

Well-known artists of Sumi-e

Some of the best-known sumi-e artists are Sesshū Tōyō and Hasegawa Tōhaku, who were both active in the 15th and 16th centuries and contributed significantly to the development and spread of this art form.


In Germany Marianne Marx-Bleil significantly influenced the West-East mix at Sumi-e in the 70s to 90s.


Overall, sumi-e is an art form that impresses with its simplicity and depth, and is appreciated in both traditional and modern contexts.