Balance, clarity, harmony, simplicity. These ideals are key to the art of sumi-e painting. An ancient practice whose Japanese name translates to “black ink painting,” this art form is based on the principle that less is more. This style emerged in the Tang dynasty (618–?907) in China and replaced earlier, more realistic styles as the preferred technique. It gained widespread use in the Song dynasty (960–1279) and in 14th-century Japan after it was introduced by Zen Buddhist monks. The imagery in sumi-e paintings is meant to expose the spirit (called the ch’i) of natural forms rather than their literal likeness. Scholars compare this concern with essence over likeness with the aesthetic ideals of Impressionism. Sumi-e painting requires special brushes made of all-natural materials, and these brushes can be works of art themselves. Many are also suitable for for the closely related art form of Shodo, or Japanese calligraphy. Choose the right set by browsing our roundup below.
1. Diandiandidi Chinese Brush for Professional Calligraphy and Sumi-e Drawing
Diandiandidi’s eight-brush set of Chinese ink wash painting brushes is a great all-around pick that includes a bamboo wrap to keep your brushes organized and for convenient carrying. The flexible and superfine bristles are made of weasel and goat hair as well as mouse whiskers that won’t shed. A great choice for beginners and professionals alike, these brushes are suitable for painting bamboo leaves, landscapes, fish, flowers, and birds.
2. Corciosy Shanlian Hubi Writing Brush, Calligraphy Brush, Sumi Painting Brush Set
This 10-brush lineup from Corciosy includes a bear hair brush, a wool brush, three weasel hair brushes, and five goat and wolf hair brushes in a range of sizes. The assorted bristle materials facilitate a variety of mark-making styles. Like the Diandiandidi product, this set comes with a bamboo wrap to keep your brushes organized and portable. Perfect for beginning or professional painters and calligraphers, this brush set won’t disappoint.
3. I-MART Chinese Calligraphy Brush and Sumi-E Drawing/Painting Brush
These multipurpose brushes from I-MART are ideal for beginners and educators. The set of three brushes includes a small, medium, and large brush so you can achieve marks in a variety of weights. The bristles won’t fan out or shed if treated with proper care.
4. Teagas Chinese Calligraphy Sumi Brush Set
Teagas’s elegant sumi brush set is a great option for novice and intermediate sumi-e artists. This complete painting set includes four calligraphy brushes, one ink stone, one Chinese seal, one cinnabar ink pad for the seal, an ink stick, a brush rest, a porcelain bowl, and a small spoon. All of these materials rest in a padded case with a latch, which makes for a great gift box or carrying case. Create authentic-looking sumi-e works complete with a red seal with this all-encompassing painting kit.
5. Hmayart Artist’s Calligraphy and Sumi Brushes
Hmayart’s three-pack of combination hair brushes is made especially for sumi-e peony and flower painting, but the small, medium, and large brushes produce a variety of marks. Like other recommended sets, this one comes with a bamboo wrap so you can keep your brushes safe and organized.