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Sumi-e Painting with Junko Azukawa

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by Em Phillips (subscribe)
Freelance writer, mum and lover of all things Melbourne :)
Published May 3rd 2019
KAMI Paper carries the largest collection of uncut, artisan paper sourced from around the world. They work with passionate artists to foster the traditional craft process, who use and transform their sheets into exquisite works. They share this in both private and public workshops that explore and develop an appreciation of this medium.

One such workshop is Sumi-e painting on rice paper with artist Junko Azukawa. Sumi-e is the Japanese word for the traditional art of painting with black ink. More than just a painting style, sumi-e painting is a practice and process that fills you with a sense of peace and calmness.

Sumi-e workshop student paintings

Junko Azukawa grew up in Toyama, Japan, at the base of the central Japanese Alps, a region famous for the natural beauty of its landscape. She started learning traditional Japanese calligraphy, Shodo, at the age of five and has experienced the vast possibilities that calligraphy and Japanese ink painting, sumi-e, can express with just simple, monotone brush strokes.

Since becoming a resident of Melbourne in 2005, Junko has brought her unique artistic talents and outlook to the Australian art scene. She started teaching Japanese calligraphy and painting with children and adults and also exhibited at a number of galleries in Australia and Japan, most recently at the NGV.

Green tea provided on arrival and equipment provided

Few special tools are required for this type of painting, one or two natural brushes, a sumi-e ink stick, water and a grinding stone and some beautiful light but strong rice paper. All of these are provided at the workshop, along with an apron and some hot green tea and homemade matcha cookies.

sumi-e workshop
Junko leading the workshop

After introducing the materials and tools, you are lead through the painting process. The first step in the process is preparation, this involves using your hand to grind a stick of sumi-e ink with a stone and water to create the ink. This is a time of meditation, Junko tells us, where your busy mind becomes still and prepares for the painting process, if your mind is still full of other thoughts, you continue grinding the stick and mixing it with water until you are ready for painting.

sumi-e ink stick
The preparation process, grinding the sumi-e stick with water to make the black ink for painting.

After instruction on how to hold the sumi-e paint brush, Junko shows us that in sumi-e painting you need to use your whole body to paint not just your wrist. Through studying such a craft "the line becomes you" as Junko says, from her years of studying the art of calligraphy and sumi-e painting.

The classes are kept intentionally small so you can have individualised attention from the teacher

Junko demonstrates how to paint various subject matter including bamboo, leaves, cherry blossoms and extra details. As the painting style requires one brush and a single pot of black ink, different tones and shapes are made by varying the shapes made by the brush and the speed and stroke of the brush to the paper. Shading and tonality is achieved by adding more or less black ink to different sections of the brush and continuing to mix the ink as you paint.The way the sumi ink bleeds onto the rice paper is unique and demands faithful reflection and being in the moment, so as you continue the process of learning, you become so focused it is a meditative practice.

My completed cherry blossom painting from the workshop

The sumi-e workshops are kept intentionally small so that everyone gets the teachers undivided attention. The class is relaxed and informative and Junko shares her knowledge and passion for sumi-e in a gentle and skilful manner. I'm not a very artistic person, and some of the other students produced better final works, but I was amazed at what I was able to complete in two hours with Junko's guidance.

My completed bamboo painting from the workshop

All tools and equipment are provided at the workshop and included in the price, this workshop is for everyone aged 12 and over. It is recommended you wear darker clothing in case of ink splashes, although aprons are also provided. You will get to take home some completed artworks and Junko adds a special red stamp to these for added authenticity.

Bookings for the workshop can be made via KAMI paper, early bird tickets are available for $78 if you book five days in advance, $77 each if you bring a friend or general admission for the class is $82. The next workshop is running on Saturday 11th May at 10am and workshops are held monthly at KAMI paper, check their website or give them a call for more details.

sumi-e workshop
Sumi-e workshops by Junko Azukawa at KAMI paper

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*Em Phillips was invited as a guest
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Why? To achieve a sense of calm and create beautiful works of art
When: Workshops are held monthly
Phone: 61 3 9419 5735
Where: KAMI paper, 217 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Cost: $78 for early bird tickets, $77 if you bring a friend or $82 for single tickets
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