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Sumi Painting on Wood

Hot tub sumi painting with a view

A couple wanted sumi-e painting done on the wood enclosure for their outdoor hot tub. The wood was old and weathered and needed to be sealed before winter. The location of this hot tub is not only outdoors but situated with a magnificent view of Hood Canal’s saltwater, distant shore and all the beauty of such a place including sunsets, eagles and beautiful skies. The hot tub offers tranquility, privacy and beauty located near Hoodsport Washington.
Article and project by Christine Burdine.



As I examined the wood painting surface I found many unknowns. Most sumi-e painting is done on rice paper that is smooth and flat. This wood was not only multi-leveled due to the tongue and groove construction, but each panel had a different grain, surface and probably different absorbencies.
How absorbent is the wood?  What medium would work on the wood yet mostly closely mimic ink on
paper so that the traditional sumi painting strokes could be used?  What brush could perform on the varying absorbencies of the wood as well as the varying heights of the tongue and groove? 
I experimented with various stains to determine which would most closely mimic ink on paper.
We decided on a tung oil based deck stain for the final protection with tung oil based stain in the color “Espresso” for the black ink effect. 
At first I tried diluting the Espresso stain with a white stain called Pearl Mist for the value differences.  I found the white stain to be too opaque so we diluted the Espresso with the natural deck stain. This simulated the different values of sumi ink achieved by diluting ink with water.
The Brush
The back of one of the panels became a place to select what kind of brush to use.  It would have been simple to select a flat stain brush but I wanted this project to be authentically sumi-e in some way.  If the ink and paper had to be replaced then I wanted the at least the brush to be sumi-e.  I tried the Yasutomo CC brush which is fantastic for both lettering and painting.  Its inner core construction makes it a favorite among potters.  I found it to be too stiff for the varying wood panels and the grooves.  I then tried the more expensive but softer haired CA series.  This brush has a unique length to width ratio that I love using for petals and other shorter strokes.  I needed a longer ratio because I was doing just bamboo.  The Yasutomo Haboku Stroke series brushes boast unusually responsive tips.  Haboku Stroke brushes come in two styles one being slightly stiffer than the other.  Both of these were responsive enough to work around the ins and outs of the paneling while holding the stain perfectly as I would need to adjust speed depending on the absorbency of the wood panels.  I used all four sizes in both series.

Click here for Haboku Stroke Brush information.

The Contrasts
The back of the panel also came in handy for discovering how the stain lines would hold when the final clear stain was applied at the end.  What happened was the entire effect changed from black and white like a sumi-e painting to dark wood with darker wood areas for the design.
I could not rely upon the stark contrasts usually available in sumi-e. 
I also decided I wanted to use a color unique to sumi painting called Pearl Green.
I used the Yasutomo WC216-5 watercolor. 
I painted some of the color over the area I wanted it in then worked the color in using a tung oil saturated brush head.
These areas of color popped out quite strongly once they were stained with the clear sealant.
The Compositions
The enclosure has eight sides and I wanted all the panels to stand alone in composition but also have all eight be one composition like a long screen.  I looked at many sumi-e paintings for ideas.  I finally ended up with a rice paper sketch pad, ink solution and a brush in a friend’s bamboo garden to find my compositions.  I was delighted with his variety of bamboos and how they grew and matured amongst each other.  It was perfect to view the new shoots and stalks with lots of leaves as a canopy above. 
I found his stand of black bamboo to be especially interesting for the variety of coloration among the stalks as well as the way the leaves grow from the branches.   I also liked how well they grew among other varieties.   The Yellow Groove bamboo made some fun compositions too.  I decided to frame all panels with leaves at the top.  The hot tub rim and cover set on top of the leaves
The weather and life finally cooperated and I set out early one morning to finally paint the hot tub.  I could have broken it down into parts if I needed to but I preferred to imagine doing the entire project in one day.  I could have also had the panels removed but elected to leave them on, in place and paint on location.
The journey was relaxing as it involved a ferry ride early in the morning across unusually calm waters for Puget Sound then a relaxing drive across and along Hood Canal.
Once I arrived I set up a blue tarp to protect the cement base the hot tub was set on.  I took my stain and diluted it into different solutions of black and natural stain.  I made medium and light values plus had the full strength black stain as a third value. 
I mixed some of the Pearl Mist stain to a darker grey to use and a silvery accent.  I also brought a dish of Pearl Green sumi watercolor for a color accent.  I knew from my experiments these accent colors would be very pronounced once the final protective sealant was applied because they were so much more opaque than the stain.
I had prepared the wood panels for staining according to the stain company’s instructions two weeks before.  The bleach solution, scrubbing and sanding had removed most of the water stains.
I painted the first panel with a composition that used leaves, a variety of stalk diameters, and stems.  The way this thing was going to work was now being revealed.  Each panel absorbed the stain differently and it made consistency impossible!  The stain would drip down from some of the stalks because the panel before was more absorbent.  Thankfully a few leaves took care of any drips.  Sumi-e compositions allow for that! 
With the first panel completed I had to consider what was next.  I was happy with it and continued.  
I had to face those tie down clips sometime!

The second panel’s composition used some side growing stalks as well as some of the pearl green color. 
I continued the canopy of leaves along the top. 
The grooves and absorbency changes were a real challenge on this panel but the brush performed fantastic
The third panel’s composition was very simple. 
I added a little silver stain to the large stalk for added interest and depth.

Starting the sealant
I felt the first panel was dry enough to apply the clear sealant.  It is the same base as the black stain (tung oil) and I had tested this early to make sure it would not move the design. 
You can see how the pigments from the pearl mist stain and pearl green watercolor pigment just pop with this application.  The black became less prominent and the colors suddenly stood out.  I was pleased because this is how the lighting was in the garden I visited. The stalks in the back were in the shade and the ones in the foreground were lit up by the sun. I used a standard brush for the sealant.

 Click here for the full article in pdf form.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 August 2010 13:18

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