We are getting ready to try a little Sumi Ink Club experiment soon, and so covered a wall in our prototyping space with white paper, so that if the muse should strike, we can pick up a brush a doodle with this traditional Japanese ink. Ryoko, however, refused to draw with anything less than "real" Japanese sumi ink, the way she learned to make it in elementary school in Japan.
So we roped her into giving us all a little mini-workshop in sumi ink making. Sumi-e starts its life as a hard small inkstick, made with soot and animal glue. Since animal glue tends to smell a little gross, the best inksticks are made with some incense added to the mix, so that when you rub it to release the ink, it smells really nice.
You put a little water into the stone with the pipette, and rub the stick, held vertically, really softly in a circular pattern. Since the stone is black and the ink is black, it's hard to tell when you have the right darkness, so it's advisable to start with little water, rub for a long time, and then test.
Ryoko showed us the Japanese symbol for "sun", which is one of the very first one schoolchildren learn to draw. We practiced over and over, but still didn't reach any satisfactory result according to Ryoko. Most of our characters ended up hopelessly unbalanced.
All in all it was a really relaxing and pleasant experience, and the first time I got a small glimpse of the intricacies of Japanese calligraphy. It made me want to learn more about this art form, and definitely keep playing with Sumi!