Sumi-e At Taller La Griega with Teofanú Calzada


Teachers need teaching too!

I want to share with you a workshop I went to at my friend Carmen La Griega’s artist studio. Carmen invited Teofanú Calzada to run this exclusive workshop. You can see all the details here:


Eastern Asian style ink painting has a name and that name is Sumi-e, pronounced (Soo-Mi- Eh). This technique is something I had never tried before. I have seen this style often in prints in Japanese and Chinese artworks but I had no idea about the creation or specialised technique that was being displayed.

Monochromatic images are created using the brush to make shapes and impressions of the form of the subject. It looks very simple and is very effective. There are strong aspects of it as an extension of calligraphy.

Ando Hiroshige – famous for the The Great Wave

I thought as I have plenty of experience with watercolours I would find this class easy. I was wrong. Perhaps it was a little tricky as the class was given in Spanish language so maybe I didn’t catch all the instructions. It was my fault, I had thought my grasp of the language would be sufficient, but really the specific words in the art vocabulary were not in my range. Next time I will ask for more guidance in english as there was plenty of time to ask for help.

Anyway, three quarters into the class when I started painting with my own techniques Teofanú Calzada tutor came over and showed me a few sumi-e techniques and explained in English, I caught up enough to be able to find a flow in this new style I was there to learn!


There is a balance that can come from understanding that the brush has a mind or energy of its own, just as much as I have a mind and energy of my own. When I give power to the brush as an equal, rather than a tool to do my bidding, we, together can make something beautiful. Sumi-e for me was the learning curve that as an artist I need to trust my body and my tools. I must switch my mind off to allow the brush and my body to show me something more than I am capable of imagining.


The table set up

When I arrived at the studio, the table was set up beautifully. The ink blocks were laid carefully on a plate, offered up next to a stand with the special Japanese paint brushes hanging like ornaments. Each student had their own ink holder, a dark grey almost black dish made of stone with a reservoir for the ink. There was also a small shallow plate to test the blackness of the ink, a brush, the class overview and a small glass of water were ready for each of us. And as you can see below a lot of tissue to mop up spills or use to blot the brushes when they were too wet.

The ink blocks on a stand, decorated with Japanese writing and pictures.

We spent the first 15 minutes of the class making our ink. We were shown how to pour a little of the water in to the ink holder, then carefully and with time, we ground the ink block into the water on the shallow area of the well. In Spanish I caught that we needed to put our intention into the process of making our ink. It seemed to be very therapeutic to spend time preparing this black liquid.

When the ink was ready, we started with all the practises of making leaves, orchids, chrysanthemums and something to do a with a Phoenix. I will ask more questions about this in the future!

I was so engrossed in my artwork, I didn’t take the break in the middle of the class! I also didn’t take many pictures during the class although I did manage to take a video towards the end when I had completed my final piece – an art work on proper sumi-e paper displaying all the techniques we had learnt in the class.

A video of us all painting

At the end we chose our favourite pieces, either the final piece or something from the practise session, to display on the mirror so we could all appreciate each other’s styles.

The final exhibition of our collective artworks!
My final painting to show all the techniques I learnt at the workshop

I loved this class. It was challenging and exciting. There were parts I wanted to burst into angry tears because of my frustration (I thought the brush was broken – it wasn’t broken, I was disconnected from it) and then there were parts I was floating in a world of flow where me, the ink and the brush were making something cosmic.

I’ve discovered there is plenty I don’t know and I am now becoming an intrepid explorer into the far east, packing just my paintbrush and leaving my expectations of myself at home.

I’m going again, if you would like to join me, book directly with Carmen by calling her or emailing her: tel: (+34) 655 17 43 59  –  (+34) 914 29 61 07 or email:

Pink and Black Orchids, Sumi-e Feb 2020

Amazing Art Society in Madrid, art classes by brilliant teachers.

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