Jump to content

Sumi Ink


kwinn

Recommended Posts

In this forum and on a number of Netsuke carver's web sites, I've seen reference to the use of Sumi ink. From a little web research, I've found that Sumi ink is a traditional far-Eastern water-soluble ink made from pine or vegetable oil soot mixed with glue made from boiled animal skin & bone. It is most known as the agent used to produce those wonderful oriental pen & ink paintings.

 

Ok, so I know how its made, but now I'm interested to hear why people choose to use Sumi Ink. Are the reasons partially sentimental? Does Sumi ink have properties that are still hard to beat with modern inks? What applications is it best at? Which ones is it not-so-good at?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For me, I've got several reasons for using sumi. In my work, I like to keep things simple. It's easy to have a stick of sumi and a stone to grind it on to produce ink whenever I need it- without having to worry about spills or a bottle drying out. - that said, there is a liquid sumi on the market which is a very good product. I'm not sure what additives it may have over the dry stick type.

Sumi, as you stated is made up of very small particles of carbon, which can be classified as a pigment. Most modern black writing inks are a cocktail of dyes- they have been developed to flow from pens with very little clogging, and are liquid through and through. It is my understanding that a black dye is very difficult to make, so most of these modern inks are a mixture of blues, purples and even reds. Before the modern petroleum-based dye and color industries, a black dye was achieved with an iron compound (the same chemical Japanese women blackened their teeth with) used in writing inks and dyeing leather. It is really a very dark brown though.

You can see this 'cocktail' by taking a black felt-tip pen, writing on a piece of paper, and then getting the spot wet with alcohol or acetone or some other solvent. As the paper soaks up the solvent, the ink bleeds into its composite colors. :) This process is utilized in the science of Chromotography- generally speaking.

 

Sumi also works well across a range of dilutions, so that intensity of black can be built up in layers- without going too far at the start.

 

Will moden inks give a different effect? I don't know. They may bleed into the wood fibers, giving a more feathered appearance than with a pigment-based black.

 

Modern black watercolors will give a similar effect as sumi. India ink traditionally has shellac added to the mix to give a shiny appearance and make it water insoluble when dry. Dr Martens brand of writing inks are known to be very good quality. Black shoe polish will stain and create a wax finish in one application :)

 

Finally, with black pigments, there is a whole range available, from cool bluish blacks, to warm brown blacks. It all depends on the source- combustion of oil, various vegetable matter, and/or bone- and the particle size. For woodcarving, this is probably too fine a point to worry about, but next time you see a sumi painting, have a look at the range of colors 'black' can achieve B)

 

-Doug

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Doug, it is so good to read your contributions! Your day job and carving together give you a unique perspective.

 

I use sumi at times for darkening the area behind an amber eye inlay. When I have tried to put the sumi right on the amber, it more often then not, will release from the amber during the glue stage. Consequently, I non longer use that technique with sumi.

 

Is there something else that I should be doing to help the sumi to remain where placed?

 

Janel

Link to comment
Share on other sites

well, if you're not adverse to modern paints, acrylic will form a better film on the amber. Once dry, it should be resistant to the solvent action of the glue.

 

Maybe paint the inlay pocket with sumi, then inlay the amber. Of course the glue might distort the blackness :)

 

There's also a technique where you could fix the sumi on to the amber by painting a layer of clear nail polish on top of the ink layer. This will be soluble in acetone, so probably won't withstand the cyanoacrylate glues (Super Glue), but should be fine with epoxies and maybe model cement. Kinda gets complicated and not a very purist approach. B)

 

I'm really interested in all sorts of artist materials and traditional techniques and methods of artists. In order to conserve artwork, we've got to know what things are made of and how to manipulate them. I've got a shelf at home of all sorts of artist tracts and kitchen chemistry handbooks. Consequently, there are so many things I want to attempt with carvings, but not enough time. My wife thinks I'm a mad scientist.

 

oh- one more thing- Amber is soluble in alcohols- you may have noticed this. A quick brushing of alcohol (rubbing, isopropyl, methylated spirits, etc) on the back side of the inlay will frost it just enough to maybe give the sumi something to grip on to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Kinda gets complicated and not a very purist approach."

 

You said it! :)

 

"Amber is soluble in alcohols" Hmmm, reminds me of a topic of conversation Sergey Osipov and I had last year about disolving amber with something to be then used as a finish on wood. S.O. referred to a book that he had read many years ago. I did not have much success with my little experiments, but over months, something did melt it a bit, but by then I lost track of the details. Alcohols, eh?

 

Sumi has been used to fill in lines and textures in ivory netsuke. Doug, or anyone, do you know if something would then be done to "fix" the sumi, more than drying it? I would imagine over years of handling, the sumi could be affected by moist hands, rain or what ever the netsuke experienced while in service.

 

Thundering rain here today, it is so beautiful! (In its own way B) .)

 

Janel

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Turpentine ought to work in dissolving amber too. Certain alcohols may just frost/etch it, and cause it to swell a bit; others may dissolve it further.

Amber, Dammar and another resin-Copal, have all been used as varnishes from time to time for paintings, woodwork, etc.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Back to sumi: Sumi has been used to fill in lines and textures in ivory netsuke. Does anyone know if something could be done to "fix" the sumi, beyond just allowing it to dry?

 

I would imagine over years of handling, the sumi could be affected by moist hands, rain or what ever the netsuke experienced while in service.

 

Janel

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...