23.07.2024 Tue

Brushes, Sumi, Inkstone

To one side of a table covered with washi paper in the split-level studio of Shinoda’s apartment is a large inkstone and, on shelves next to a built-in washbasin, are more than 200 brushes of various kinds including one with a head more than 20 centimeters long.

Shinoda chooses a brush from among this diverse collection according to the type of image she wants to portray. Her favorites, she says, are the soft-headed brushes with the hairs not hardened together at the nub but loose and unruly. Such brushes may be difficult to use, but they also respond subtly to the user’s uncertainty or swings of mood and can produce unexpected lines or shapes. Shinoda has other implements she particularly favors. Among them are old ink sticks from the Ming dynasty and her Song dynasty inkstone made of Duanshi rock. The value of expensive sumi, says Shinoda, is not only in the sumi itself but the ink that is rubbed from it. Changes in the composition of the sumi resulting from the passage of time bring forth fine gradations of blurring and dark and light tints with successive layering of the ink. Her large inkstone, some 65 centimeters long and 40 centimeters side, is practically without decoration—virtually a stone in its natural shape—but its great well is fine-grained, the best kind of surface for bringing out the colors of the old Ming-dynasty sumi.

Pouring fresh water into this massive inkstone, Shinoda quietly rubs her sumi from an old ink stick. The sound of the rubbing against the stone deepens the quiet, and the smell of newly made ink stirs the inception of form. With the hum of Tokyo heard faintly in the distance, Shinoda spends her days working with sumi.