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4 Essential Japanese Ink Painting Tutorials


Of the many wonderful Japanese ink painting themes, there are few that have come to be considered essentials for the artist practitioner. And so, if you would need to condense the whole teaching of ink painting into four lessons only, then you would probably want to learn to paint wild orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum and plum blossom.


While every ink painting theme has its own unique value, why, and how, have these four become to be known as the foundation lessons for the practitioner artist?



'The Four Noble Ones'


Of the many wonderful Japanese ink painting themes, there are few that have come to be considered essentials for the artist practitioner. And so, if you would need to condense the whole teaching of ink painting into four lessons only, then you would probably want to learn to paint wild orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum and plum blossom.

Known as 'The Four Noble Ones' or 'The Four Gentlemen' and shikunshi in Japanese - wild orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum and wild plum hold within them together, like a pearl, the essential brush strokes practice for ink paintings.


Each lesson, highlight different usage of line work and ink marks, offers an understanding as to the usage of ink and water to create shades of ink, and teaches core ideas of composition as well as careful observation of the ink masters paintings of the past.


'The Four Noble Ones' carry the perception of time flow and the elements, as well as main qualities and notions for the discipline of ink painting practice.


Origin of 'The Four Noble Ones'

The origin of these four plants as the 'Noble Ones', is somewhat of a mystery. Their tale goes back to Chinese literati ink painters of the Song dynasty (960–1279), hence their title also as 'The Four Gentlemen'. Ink painting and calligraphy together with music, used to be practiced by Chinese scholars as a mean of improving oneself and cultivating ones character.

Chosen not only because of their beauty, wild orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum and wild plum also have come to be considered as representing essential qualities for the scholar-painter character. These qualities be defined as humility, purity, resilience and forbearance.


These various literati painting subjects were collated as compilation of knowledge over the generations, to include, instructions and details ranging from how to make ink and colour, to understanding composition, appreciation the artist observation skills, and samples of the masters.


Thanks to the development of woodblock prints around the the 17th C. these compilation were turned into printed painting manual instructions for the discipline of ink painting. One of the early well known manual was the Chinese manual titled 'The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting'. It was divided into various books and devoted a book for each of The Noble Ones' plants. As the manual became available and more popular, various copies were printed reaching other countries including Japan. It is recorded that the Japanese Tokugawa shogun exchange in 1724 his copy of the manual with a 1679 edition which belonged to an artist in his employ.

The manuals made ink painting more accessible and must have inspired Japanese artists to create their own painting manuals as well. Today there are various version and editions to these kind of painting manuals. (see link below)

And so, 'The Four Noble Ones' have become the foundation and essential practice themes for the ink painting practitioner.



Unfolding seasons of 'The Four Noble Ones'

Each subject represents the arrival of one of the four seasons and convey different feelings and emotions. The orchids suggest early spring time and the bamboo of summer time. The chrysanthemum tells of autumn into winter, and the plum blossom of winter into spring.

Each plants display, in different way, its hidden beauty in spite of the hard weather and condition it grows in. Thus the study of these four will unfold the hidden beauty in ones painting.

Wild orchids

The spring blossom, blooming up high in the faraway mountains tops creaks and rocks, is this wild orchid way. It is as if the plant touches the sky. Access to it, is almost impossible. Because of this, it has become a symbol for hidden beauty. With its fine blossom, rare and graceful, it has also become a symbol of humility, elegance.





Bamboo
Bamboo is one of the most loved subject of ink painting. It is the beauty of the line that comes through with the painting. It represents the season of summer and the quality of resilience. As it is the fastest growing woody plant in the world and an ever-green plant, it gets its power from adaptability rather then strength. And so it came to represent flexibility and inner power.

Chrysanthemum

The royal chrysanthemum suggests the end of autumn and the coming of Winter. Fields of yellow chrysanthemum were considered as precious as gold. Its golden beauty represents purity and a determination. The power of anchoring in truth even in the face of the withstanding changes of season.


Plum blossom

The end of winter is snowy and very cold. The bare trees are well covered with snow, and it is the plum blossom that succeed in-spite of the cold weather to bloom and cover the tree with beautiful pink, red and white blossom with fine fragrance and delight.

This power overcomes the cold and bleak weather, represents inner beauty and humble display of courage and bravery, in the face of difficulties and hardship, and this is plum blossom painting.




In conclusion

The wild orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum and plum blossom have become an essential themes for the beginner apprentice of ink painting, as well as of deep value to professional artists. Each lesson trains ones hand and heart with specific brush movements, allowing the student to learn, practice and remember these and connect with the profound flow that comes when executed well. Just like playing scales on the piano, or warming up for a dance, practicing these with harmony, can immensely enhance the artists skills and quality of line.



Learn More

For an in-depth painting course 'The Four Noble Ones' you are invited to join ArtBrush Foundation course



For individual painting tutorials please check the link HERE


For the contemporary Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, translated by Mai mai Sze you can get your copy on this affiliate link >


Purchase on Amazon HERE



*Images in this article are taken from the mustard seed garden manual of painting



 



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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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