Shadow Colors

Before I found myself pursuing art and actually becoming an artist, I had a very limited familiarity with art supplies. I knew about pencils, pens, colored pencils, watercolors, and oil paints, but that was about as far as my knowledge went. What a surprise it was to discover materials like conte sticks, pastel pencils, and so many more incredible “must-have” art supplies.

Of course, most aren’t really “must-have” items, but many are definitely “want-to-have” goodies, if only because I love learning about them. I enjoy playing with different ways of making marks. So, as I’m browsing through art magazines or scrolling about online, it often happens that an advertisement will catch my eye. That’s exactly how I came across “E-Sumi Watercolors“, or maybe it’s correctly “Sumi-E Watercolors“. It depends on where you’re shopping. Or, maybe we can just call them “Shadow Colors.”

Sumi-E is Japanese Ink Painting, and while I love the art form, and while I own a beautiful Japanese Ink Painting set, and while I have a beginner’s book on the art, and while I’ve played around a bit when I was trying to make my own ink, and while I even have a supply of rice paper, I have never actually attempted any real Japanese Ink Painting. I’m simply too much in awe of the beautiful set I purchased, and I haven’t dared use it yet. You can see the set and learn a little about Sumi-E in this post I shared almost two years ago.

I suppose it’s practically shameful to have art supplies sitting unused for two years, but that’s how it is. Every time I see that beautiful set of inks and brushes, all I can do is stare at it in wonder. How I wish I knew this beautiful art! I know, I know. If I got the ink and brushes out and started practicing — I have that book, I have the rice paper — maybe I could learn.

Still, the beautiful box remains on a high shelf in the art supply closet. Maybe someday I’ll take it down and do more than just look at it.

And maybe that day will come a little sooner now that I’ve discovered the “Sumi-E Watercolors”. Here’s the first “blurb” I read:

They look black in the box, but this six-color set is actually an exciting, intense range of shadow colors. Boku-Undo, the Japanese manufacturer of these paints, has combined traditional black sumi ink with vibrant colored dyes to create a watercolor set that’s perfect for stormy skies and rocky coasts. — St. Louis Art Supply

Are they ink? Are they watercolor? Are they both? I wasn’t sure — I’m still not sure — but I knew at once that I wanted a set. Even though I don’t do traditional sumi-e ink painting, I’ve already fallen in love with Japanese watercolor — my precious gansai — so I figured I’d enjoy this set of “shadow colors”.

Now, having played with them a bit, do I love them? Well, let’s just say that at this point I’m definitely intrigued. They’re different from what I expected, but isn’t that half the fun of finding something new?

Here is one quick “shadow color painting” I completed this morning. I did add gansai to the leaves of the tree, so I suppose this is a bit of a “mixed media” artwork.

I’m playing here with a very, very inexpensive pad of watercolor paper. In fact, let’s just call it what it is. Cheap. It’s a pad of “Master’s Touch” paper — available for $3.49 at Hobby Lobby. Well, according to the ad, the price has gone up to $3.99 for the 8″ x 8″ pad, but seriously, don’t bother. I bought this for the grandkids, and for my own “playtime”. It’s good for that but not for much else.

In this quick painting, I used the dry brush technique for the foreground, and used the color with a bit more water on the horizon. For the sky I tried doing a traditional watercolor wash. That wasn’t too successful. Because of the ink in the mix, I ended up with a lot of granulation. I used a tissue to wipe it off a bit.

Since doing this painting, I’ve played around a little more but not too successfully. Despite the fact that these paints are called “watercolors”, they’re really not suited for use with familiar watercolor methods. Of course, consider the source — me. I’m not a watercolor artist, so my understanding of methods and my ability to use different watercolor techniques is quite limited. For me the surprise, I think, was that these are so unlike my Japanese gansai. I expected to find some similarity.

I think these “shadow colors” would be great on rice paper, especially for doing more traditional Japanese ink art. Because they are a sort of “hybrid” — ink and watercolor pigment — they seem a bit more approachable for me than the inks of my beautiful Sumi-E set. I’m more willing to open these up, play with them, try learning a few actual sumi-e painting strokes, and getting to know how they work.

Once I’m comfortable with brush stroke techniques and have learned a few basics, maybe I’ll be brave enough and bold enough to get out my sumi-e inks and give them a try, too.




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