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21 Books Every Ink Painting Practitioner Should Read

There are many great books on ink painting and art history that can help practitioners improve their skills.

This is a list of 21 art-related and Japanese ink painting history books. Each has been part of my own journey with ink through the years and impacted my understanding and appreciation of art. They are essential for any artist who wants to learn more about ink painting.

I full-heartedly recommend these books to ink painting practitioners. They cover a variety of topics, from the history of Japanese ink painting to the artist practice and meditation.

Few are catalogues of museum exhibitions and may be out of print. See if you can get them second hand, or direct from the museum. They are all well-written and filled with beautiful artwork that will inspire you to create your own masterpieces!

This list is being updated from time to time, so do check it up or sign up to the mailing list to get updated.

Lesson Landscape by Talia Lehavi

By Penelope Mason

This book is one of the most concise works of Japanese art history you will ever need. It covers history from early Jōmon time (10,50-300bc) and up to Meiji and Shōwa (1868-1945). The book looks into the art forms of each period, mainly painting, ceramic, architecture, and sculptures.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Sherman Lee

This book was given to me by a dear friend who was an avid Japanese art dealer and collector in London. He said to me, "This is the only book you need on Asian art. Take it!" It includes work from the early stone and bronze age and up to 18th c. Japan. And it covers the art history of China, India, Japan and South Asia and Indonesia.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Stephen Addiss

Any book by Stephan Addiss is a book I would recommend. He is one of the leading, passionate scholars of Japanese art, and I was lucky to be in few of his lectures when he visited London. This book helped me begin to understand how to view Japanese art. And although rather thin looking, it offers essential guidelines as to how to approach and begin to appreciate Japanese art aesthetic values. It covers ceramics, sculptures and traditional Buddhist art, zen ink painting, calligraphy, woodblock prints and gardens.

Purchase on Amazon: HERE

By Roland Barthe

A very personal book on Japanese aesthetic by Roland Bathers which touched me deeply in its feeling descriptions. As is said in its promotion, "If Japan did not exist, Barthes would have had to invent it…"

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Sophie Richard

This well-designed book, with many images, covers prominent art museums in Japan and is quite recent. It includes tips and advice with detailed addresses. It can be a great source of information for those of you who wish to view original art while travelling to Japan or viewing the museums' websites online.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

Translated by Mai mai Sze

A latest printout of 17th C. manual of how to paint. Originated in China and adopted by Japanese artists as well. It has various different volumes. Original copies can be found in museum’s displays, like the British Museum. The manuals have many lessons and examples of how to paint according to various masters of the time, with core notions and reasonings. An essential manual to guide and inspire the ink painting practitioner.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Richard B. Pilgrim

A short concise writing with a chapter on Zen art and Zen aesthetics

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Stephan Addiss

A beautiful book of paintings and calligraphy by Japanese monks from the 1600 - 1925 with notes and translations by Stephan Addiss.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

Los Angeles County Museum catalogue

This catalogue presents a selection of Japanese paintings, of the 18th C. Edo period, from the collection of Joe and Etsuko Price. I was lucky enough to meet with the collector himself, and view original artwork both at his home and at the museum. The collection holds valuable Japanese ink paintings, in particular the eccentric ink masters work of 18th C. Jackuchō, Shōhaku and Rosetsu.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Stephan Addiss

Exhibition catalogue book of the haiku painting tradition, known as haiga. This book may be of interest for the ink painter, calligrapher and poetry lovers.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Michiko Warkentyne & Barry Till

A sweet little book of Japanese haiku poetry according to season, with accompanied artwork and calligraphy.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Jon Carter Covell

Read about the life and work of 15th C. master monk-painter Tōyō Sesshū, considered one of the founders of Japanese ink painting tradition. The book was written by Jon Carter Covell in 1941! So if you can get your hand on a copy, you may just discover overlays of history interwoven. It covers the life of Sesshū, his styles of paintings with attention to his landscape, figures, bird and flower and animal painting.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

Translated by Norman Waddell

Translation to English of the spiritual autobiography of Zen master Hakuin. The book includes Hakuin own Zen experiences, paintings and advise to students.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Miyamoto Musashi

Known as Japan’s greatest warrior, Musashi was also a master of the brush. Although only few of his paintings survived, they are well known and unique to his character. He is the one to coined the phrase - ‘as the brush so is the sword’. Towards the end of his life he put together his experience in a simple five chapters book. An essential read for the ink painter and the martial artist alike.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Jack Hillier

Jack Hillier is one of the pioneer scholars of Japanese art and his writings are so very insightful and well written. In this (big) book, published in 1974!, you will find essays about the great masters of ink of the Shijo style, to include the literati movement, Ōkyo and his followers and many others.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By John Carpenter

A beautiful exhibition catalogue book written by my London university professor, Dr. John Carpenter, now head of the Metropolitan museum of art. We have always shared the passion for Rinpa school and aesthetic, and it is worth while reading his notes in this catalogue with his excellent example of how to research Japanese art.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Matthew P McKelway

A beautiful exhibition catalogue book presenting highlights from the exquisite artwork of ink painter and Rinpa school master Sakai Hōitsu.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Richard Weiha

A most poetic, beautiful short story based on the autobiography of Chinese ink master Shin-t’ao of the 17th century, who was committed to capture nature with a single brush stroke. For the ink painter, the poet, the dweller and art historian.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By John O'donohue

Well, yes, I know this is not Japanese related, but it is one of my favourite books of healing, wisdoms and calm. Always like to read from it, whichever page opens.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Betty Edwards

The is the one and only essential drawing skills course you will ever need. With super practical exercises to develop your drawing skill as far and high as you like it. You can use the Japanese brush and paper for the practices.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

By Will Gompertz

I stumbled upon this pocket book at Daunt bookshop in London and couldn't resist it. It is full of humour, brightness and intelligent tips for all you artists out there.

Purchase on Amazon HERE

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The ArtBrush Library is a membership with a selection of writings, essays and contemplations to guide you with your Japanese ink painting studies.


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About the Author

Japanese Ink Painting Instructor & Artist, Talia Lehavi - Standing with a brush in front of Notes on Pine collection in Mallorca Studio

Talia LeHavi is a professional artist and a certified teacher of Japanese ink painting. Exhibiting both in the UK and internationally, she is known for her cross-disciplinary paintings, prints and ceramic tiles.

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