How to Learn Japanese Brush Painting

Japanese brush painting, also referred to as Sumi-e, is the art of using sumi ink and specially made Japanese brushes to create paintings on rice paper. According to master Sumi-e artist Drue Katoaka, this technique dates back 2000 years and is deeply rooted in Buddhist spirituality. The original brush painting masters would meditate deeply in preparation for painting. Whether you want to explore the ethereal aspects of the art or simply paint as a hobby, learning Sumi-e requires preparation and perseverance.

Things You'll Need

  • Sumi Ink Stick
  • Japanese Bamboo Brush
  • Rice Paper
  • Ink Grinding Stone

Learning Japanese Brush Painting

Select your materials. In order to learn Sumi-e, you must work with traditional materials: ink stick, grinding stone, brush and paper. You may need several brushes, as Silver Dragon Studio states, they come in various varieties: soft for coloring, hard for drawing and combination. Supplies may be purchased online or at art stores.

Get a feel for the brush, the ink and the paper. Before learning the art in its disciplined form, simply experiment with the materials to learn the natural shapes the brush makes, the consistency of the ink and the absorbency of the paper.

Understand your learning style. If you learn visually, you may be able to learn basic Japanese brush painting from a well-written book. If you learn best with hands-on activities, you may learn better by finding a live class.

Obtain books or attend a class, depending on how you learn best. Many books teaching Sumi-e are available online and in craft stores. If you would prefer to take a class, you may find one in your area at local art stores, Asian galleries or local colleges.

Practice what you have learned. While a class or book may be helpful for you to understand the basics of Japanese brush painting, true mastery of the techniques will only come with diligence and practice.


  • To understand the true experience of Sumi-e painting, try meditating before you begin painting.