Sumi-e at the San Francisco Zen Center

Where San Fran Tea gets down with the brush

Lately I’ve been reflecting on how little time I spend making art; one of my greatest joys. I saw a Sumi-e ink painting workshop advertised recently at the San Francisco Zen Center and decided I needed to check it out, to keep motivated with my creative endeavors. I normally do vipassana style meditation myself, but the Zen Center is always producing interesting events going on and I feel at home there.

At first, our instructor, Michael Hoffman, showed us how to grind our ink using the traditional ink block and suzuri stone.

Next we were led through an instructional session for how to paint Bodhidharma, who is claimed to be the father of Zen Buddhism. He looks a little grumpy here, but I’ve always seen him pictured that way. This practice painting included a lot of different brushstrokes and I discovered that eyebrows and facial fair are really fun to paint.

Evidently Zen Buddhists really like tea, so that was an added bonus from taking the class, tea, as well as sandwiches and cookies from the vegetarian restaurant, Greens. One story regarding the origin of tea claims that it sprang from Bodhidharma’s eyelids. Shown below: selections from Celestial Seasonings and Yogi Tea.

We continued our exploration of sumi-e with painting some objects from life. A few kind volunteers brought in objects to paint and still lifes are one of my favorite art subjects, so I really enjoyed this part. I’m not a complete neophyte to the world of art, I did go to art school many years ago, and have managed to retain a lot of my skills. Still some of the practice pieces were challenging as I tried to learn washes on the porous rice paper and how to use the sumi-e brush correctly. Here’s a pine cone I did, sorry for the bad photo but it’s the best I could do with my digital camera and bad lighting.

We continued on in the afternoon with an exploration of abstraction, including collage techniques. This was more of an intuitive and collaborative process with the entire group. Here’s a photo of the table we were working on; somehow I got a real kick out of the inky messiness here. In retrospect, I think part of my painting looks like a slice of pizza, could this have been a subliminal message from my stomach that I was still hungry?

After cleaning up, our afternoon concluded with a short zazen meditation sitting and a talk. I felt really energized by what I learned in the class and I hope to continue doing some more things with sumi-e.

After the class was over I had dinner at Samovar Tea House with C.W., because after all it was right across the street! I cupped an exquisite Four Seasons oolong and concluded my day with more meditation. It was a great day with San Francisco tea, my interests in art, and Buddhism fused together in a most delightful manner.

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Comments (2)

    Profile photo of jackie
    jackieOctober 10th, 2012 at 5:30 pm      

    Love your own creative endeavors and am happy to see you had an interesting and fun time at the workshop. Looking forward to seeing more of your nice work. Bodhidharma looks like he could just do with a fine cup of tea.

      Profile photo of amyoh
      amyohOctober 11th, 2012 at 7:50 am      

      Thanks Jackie! It’s important for me to keep up with these things. Hope you’re doing well!