One brushstroke at a time

painting of beach scene with haiku

“water and stone” is 11×14, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on paper. Signed prints are available for $35. © 2015 Annette Makino

When I first tried sumi ink painting five years ago, I struggled. There was frustration. There was angst.

In this ancient medium, you grind an ink stick made of pine soot and glue in an ink stone with a few drops of water, then paint with bamboo brushes on rice paper. Sounds simple enough, right? But in practice, there are many ways to go wrong—and I excelled at all of them.

I ground the ink too thin and it dried sad and gray on the paper; I ground it too thick and my strokes ran out early, gasping for ink. I got too much water in the brush and my strokes grew wide and blobby. I moved my arm too slowly and the lines looked tentative; too quickly and the lines skipped and went awry.

But with the encouragement of family and friends, I kept plugging away.  Occasionally, almost by accident, a painting would work, and that was enough to keep me going.

water and stone
how we shape
each other

Multiplying the challenges, I soon added Japanese watercolors (gansai paints) to my pieces. And I gradually moved away from the simple lines and white backgrounds of traditional Japanese ink painting toward more colorful and detailed pieces—images involving tricky subjects like animal fur, water reflections or storm clouds. In the words of management guru Tom Peters, I learned to “fail forward fast.”

photo of sumi ink being ground

A sumi ink stick is ground in an ink stone with a bit of water. Traditionally, the resulting ink is applied onto rice paper with bamboo brushes. Photo © 2011 Yoshi Makino

I feel oddly shy sharing this, but I’ve recently had a breakthrough. After years of effort in which my failed paintings ended up as wrapping paper, I think I may be getting the hang of this. Somehow, the dozen paintings I’ve created this summer radiate a new level of aliveness. The sea foam looks lighter, the flower petals more delicate, the river wetter.

blue brushstrokes
the sea laps the edge
of the page

I haven’t yet put in the requisite ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery. But I’m getting closer. A few days ago I hung a solo show of local Humboldt landscapes, called “Water & Earth,” and I feel it’s my strongest body of work to date. The journey continues, but I am pausing here to appreciate the view.

rice paper moon
pine trees brush
the inky sky

Makino Studios News

Water & Earth: My current show features landscape paintings inspired by Humboldt County’s beautiful wild places. It is on view at Libation on the plaza in Arcata, California through August 2015, along with my cards and prints.

North Country Fair: Celebrate the fall equinox at the 42nd annual North Country Fair in Arcata the weekend of Sept. 19-20. This festive event features 200 booths, live music on two stages, and two parades. My booth will be in the usual spot on G Street near 9th.

Fieldbrook Art & Wine Festival: The following weekend I’ll have a booth at this lovely event at the Fieldbrook Winery in Fieldbrook, California on Saturday, Sept. 26, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Seabeck Haiku Getaway: This fun and inspiring gathering of haiku poets takes place on Washington State’s beautiful Kitsap Peninsula Oct. 1-4. I will be giving a presentation of my haiga (haiku art) there.

Before we were tamed: Thanks so much to all who came to see Tina Gleave and me at Ramone’s in June during North Coast Open Studios and who visited our show!

Connecting: You can get news, fresh art and haiku on my Makino Studios Facebook page and my Twitter feed.

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  1. Kathryn Ehnebuske
    Posted August 9, 2015 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    This is truly beautiful. I bow in gratitude.

  2. Heather Leigh
    Posted August 10, 2015 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Great post. I laughed when you said it sounded easy because sounds anything but that. Look forward to seeing your new work.

    • Posted August 13, 2015 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Heather! I guess I always assume things will be easier than they turn out to be…the optimist’s affliction!

  3. Andrea Armin
    Posted August 11, 2015 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    This is great story and so well written, it’s exciting to read. Thanks.

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