The characteristic look of Japanese brush painting techniques is instantly recognizable. While much of the final piece’s unique craftsmanship comes from the artist’s connection to their subject, the distinctive inks and paints found in a Japanese ink painting set are also important when trying to achieve an authentic look.
While there are more subtle differences related to composition, it is helpful to think of ink as being used primarily for writing, while paints are used to add color. Because of this, ink is often thinner, and is absorbed into the medium, while paint, being thicker, sits on top of the medium.
In Japanese arts, black Sumi ink is used. Sumi can be derived from three primary sources: rapeseed oil, pine sap and industrial oils. While all three are black, the tones of each are slightly different, ranging from bluish gray to brown.
Gansai paint is a type of watercolor, but it has several properties that make it different from the Western watercolors that artists may be more familiar with. Gansi is more vibrant than Western watercolors. It can also have a shinier finish because of the different binders Gansai uses. Gansai colors are mostly those found in nature, so a palette may have lots of blues and greens. Gansai tends to lift more easily than Western watercolors, but using other traditional Japanese art products, like washi paper and goat-hair brushes, mitigates those differences.
Etegami: Meaning “picture letter,” Etegami are sketched images of everyday objects paired with short phrases or verse, then mailed to friends. The washi paper postcards need both Sumi ink and Gansai paint to be created.
Sumi-e: An art form in which subjects are painted only using Sumi ink, the artist creates depth and vitality by using different gradations of the ink. Not all balck and white ink drawing can rightfully be called Sumi-e, as there must be elements of simplicity and spontaneity for the art to truly reflect the principles of Sumi-e.