The Japanese term “sumi” means “black ink”, “e” means “painting”. It indicates one of the art forms in which subjects are painted with black ink in all possible gradations ranging pure black to the lightest shades achievable by dissolving ink in water. However, this does not mean that everything painted in this way deserves to be called sumi-e.
Real sumi-e must correspond to typical features, such as simplicity and spontaneity that directly strike the viewers’ sensibility. In order for a painting to be “alive”, all its components must be alive. This type of painting already includes the sketch; there is no need for preparation, as in traditional painting; any superfluous form or detail is left out.
This way of painting was introduced into Japan by Zen monks and it then became rapidly successful because in this painting-method, as in Zen practice, reality is expressed by reducing it to its pure, bare form. Touch-ups, additions and decorations do not enhance a work, but rather hide its true nature. Just as in cooking, if you add too many spices, you won’t get the real flavour of what you have made.