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Susan Frame – CMW’s Demo Artist for June 2023


Susan Frame, our CMW June demo artist, provided an interesting and informative introduction to Sumi-e painting. Susan has been painting for 50 years. She started in college working with a Japanese artist and was hooked. Sumi-e is a Japanese word that means “ink painting”. Susan works with traditional Japanese and Chinese materials. Although she uses watercolor in her work, she doesn’t consider herself a watercolor artist.

She began her demo by explaining a little bit about sumi-e painting and the materials she uses. She uses rice paper which she indicated is a generic term for paper made in Asia. The paper is very thin and unsized, allowing the ink and watercolor to bleed in all directions, and buckles from the water.

Finished paintings require gluing the finished painting to a second sheet of paper with wheat glue that is applied to the back of the finished sumi-e painting. This allows the painting to dry to a flat unwrinkled surface. The sumi-e painting is translucent before the second sheet of rice paper is glued to the back.


The black sumi-e ink is available as a liquid or block, using water as the medium. Because she likes to paint in large formats, she prefers the liquid ink. She uses Chinese watercolors that tend to be a bit more opaque than regular watercolors. She also uses a limited palette of regular watercolors.

Her brushes are soft haired brushes held in an upright position when applying paint, applying more than one shade of paint with each stroke. Strokes are made with loose motions of the full arm. She uses small saucers for each color of paint rather than a traditional palette.

Her first demo was a traditional sumi-e watercolor of a peony. She loaded her brush with red and white and painted individual petals of the peony. She indicated that in sumi-e painting the background of paintings is often left white to counterbalance the colors used.


Susan Frame 3



Susan Frame 4


To be considered a sumi-e painting the painting needs to include sumi-e black ink. She mixed some of the ink with a green malachite Chinese shade for the leaves of the peony. Traditional paintings can be signed with a block called a “chop”. It doesn’t need to just be your name but can include other information.


Susan Frame 5



Susan Frame 7



Susan Frame 8


Her second demo was less structured. Her set-up included covering her work surface with layers of newspaper to absorb the excess water from the paintings. She had no plan and no end result in mind. Rather she wanted to explore the materials and the challenge they presented by applying ink and watercolor in a spontaneous manner to see what would happen and what they might suggest.

She started with 8 large sheets of rice paper and one by one she applied various amounts of ink water and watercolors, layering each sheet over the top of the next. Layering the paper allows the water to seep through and make unexpected marks on the papers underneath. Once they were all stacked, she allows them to dry and then looks at each to decide what they suggest using them as the basis for further paintings, such as landscapes. She often adds more painting and ink to “finish” the paintings.


Susan Frame A



Susan Frame B



Susan Frame C



Susan Frame D


Susan will be teaching her techniques at Grand Marais art colony later this summer for those who are interested in pursuing this fascinating art medium.

Notes written by Diane Runberg

Photos taken by Sandra Theis

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