The third treasure is ink. Traditionally, ink is ground from an ink stick before each calligraphy session. The stick (shown above on the right) is mixed with water and ground on an ink stone (spoiler alert: that’s the fourth treasure and I’ll be talking about it on Monday). Just like paper, the ink stick is made from natural materials. Pine branches are burned with natural oils and the soot is blended by hand with animal bone glue and made into the ink sticks. The kneading of the soot and glue requires great strength and the process has been handed down through generations. The sticks are dried and aged, then polished and decorated, like the one you see above. It is a slow process and, just like with paper, the seasons play a role in the creation of the ink. The humidity and temperature are critical to the drying and aging processes. The ink sticks have a very earthy scent. They remind me of spring when the earth thaws and you can smell the soil again. I’ll talk more on Monday about grinding the ink stick and making the ink. All of the ink sticks I’m sharing on today’s post are from Naoto’s aunt’s collection. I do not believe any of them have been used. (I’ve been using an ink stick I picked up at Blick’s when I took the art class.) The one above is my absolute favorite. There is a gorgeous scene on both sides. I really want to display that one in our home somehow. It seems like a shame to leave it in the closet it its box… I would like to use the ink stick in the middle to see how it compares with my current ink stick.
You can also buy bottled ink for sumi-e painting and calligraphy. The bottled ink is convenient because you don’t have to make your own ink every time you want to write. It is also more consistent since the bottlers are using a “recipe” that you could never perfect by grinding your own ink at home. However, by buying bottled ink, you lose some of the sheen and nuance that come from the ink stick. And, as I’ll talk more about on Monday, there is a mental preparation that comes only from grinding the ink. Sometimes it pays to take the long road.