Eastern Water Brushes; What’s the Big Deal

I love watching You Tube videos of sumi-e paintings.  There is something intriguing about the process.  When I found out that Open Studio at Digital Art Academy was going to focus on sumi-e, I was delighted.  I began to practice.

No matter how hard I practiced, the process felt muddled.  Did I just need more practice? Of course, but who has time for practice.  Good brush painters hone their skills for decades; I had a matter of weeks.  Surely (tongue in cheek) with the right brush I could be a Master in less than a few days.  I knew it was impossible, but what else is a hardhead good for, if not for banging it against an impossible goal.

Bang one.  What is necessary for a good sumi-e brush? “Kevin?” (Dear reader, I know you do not know Kevin, but if you will bear with me, I’ll make a page explaining all about my computer Kevin, but right now, let’s just chat about the brushes.)

“Many things,” he replied rather too simply.

“Well, duh.  You champion the obvious.  I’m asking for one essential behavior.” Sometimes Kevin can be so obtuse.

“The ability to load the brush tip with one value of a color and the base with a lighter or darker value. But you will never remedy that conundrum.”

“Exactly, a perfect function of the brush.  What? Never remedy? Don’t be rude or I’ll run the CCleaner you hate?

“What we need is the ability to sample multiple colors with one brush, and Painter has that exact function.  It is located in the Mixer Pad.

Sample Multiple=

  1. This is the dropper tool, which will sample a single pixel of color
  2. This is the sample multiple colors dropper.  It will sample a range of colors from a single pixel to 50 pixels.
  3. The slider determines the range of colors.  Currently it is set to sample 24 pixels; slide it all the way to the right and it will sample 50 pixels.”

“Aha…you jest.  Are you telling me that you can eyeball 50 pixels on the screen?  I think not,” he chuckled; well it was more like a giggle.

“No, of course not.  I do a little trial and error to get the right range, but most of the time, I leave it at 50 pixels and change when needed.  Check this out.

Sample Strokes

Sample Brushstrokes with 50 Pixel Range

“The slider is set for 50 pixels and I sampled color from just beyond the tips of each arrow.  You can see the resulting strokes.  Obviously, 50 pixels is not very big; plus, there is a bigger problem.  Not all brushes can use the sample multiple function.

“Artist’s Oils Category variants can use the function, but many, for example, in the Acrylic Category cannot.  The determining factor is the Brush Dab Type, which can be found in the General Palette.”

Kevin coughed, hacked, cleared his throat; he made a noise, “Sputter. Is this the first time you have mentioned this palette?  Will the readers understand what it is?”

“Some, yes; others, no.  But I get your point.  Explain the General Palette.

“Under Window > Brush Control you will find a palette group consisting of a number of palettes relating to brush controls.  The General Palette is first in the list.

Brush controls Group Palette

Brush Controls Group Palette with Emphasis on General Palette

“If one of the following four words is listed in the first drop down menu, then the brush can sample multiple colors from the Mixer Pad: camel, flat, and bristle spray.  The illustration identifies all dab types that can use this function.

“Bang one resolved.  And you said it couldn’t be done.  All I have to do is use Camel, Flat, and Bristle Spray Brush Dab Types.”

“You got lucky.  There are many more obstacles ahead,” he said with a certain amount of glee.  He delights in my struggles.  I wonder if all computers are like that, or if I got the only one.

I promised to give you the Eastern Brushes.  Download them here.

The Eastern Brushes conversation will continue.  In the meantime, you may want to download a free webinar that Karen Bonaker and I did about how to use the Eastern Brushes.  The webinar lasted for an hour and 20 minutes, so the zipped file is around 170 MB.  You can download it at Painter Talk, but you will need to register.  It is a free forum; lots of Painter enthusiasts are members.

April edition of Digital Paint Magazine is available. It is a free subscription.

A few paintings I did in the first week of Open Studio:

Dragon Fly

Dragon Fly and Japanese Magnolia

Orchid in a Tree

Orchid in a Tree

The next image is referred to as a Haiga, a combination of Haiku and ga.

My Haiku:

Parrot tulips bright

Bring spring inside the dwelling

Winter returns grey

A Haiga...Parrot Tulip

Enjoy and see you next post,


25 responses to “Eastern Water Brushes; What’s the Big Deal

  1. This is an awesome post Skip! My computer delights in my struggles too 😉

    I totally love your paintings! They are most excellent.

  2. Skip,

    As I mentioned in my post at Painter Talk, I love what you are doing with these Sumi-e brushes and the results of your experimentations. Personally, I hope this current fascination of yours lasts a very long time. Some wonderful, exciting things are coming out of this.

    Btw, my computer is named “Flash”.


    • Thanks Elaina, I’m sure Kevin and Flash will get along well; except…do tell her to watch out. Kevin is fast.

      Who knows how long the current interest will last. 😉 I just ride whatever current comes my way.


    • Thanks Susan…

      I probably should clarify a bit. I have been working in the arts for quite sometime. For 30 years I made my living as a potter. One of the surface decorations I loved to do was similar to brush painting. It was different in that I used a loose form of colored clay to apply the painting. But, I used similar brushes used by sumi-e artist.

      It is different in the computer because I am not using ink, watercolor, clay, or bamboo brushes, but I am using computer tools that imulate the real thing.

      At first it was very tough getting use to working with a stylus and tablet. You make marks on the tablet while watching the screen. But one quickly adapts.

      For me, my experience potting and the fact that I had formal training, I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, has helped me develop digital painting quickly.

      I believe someone who has no training could develop fairly quickly, too, thanks to the fact that the computer is very forgiving and we had an undo function. :).

      Depending on how you look at it…I guess I have been doing “it” for years…at least making “art” for years.

      Thanks for visiting and your wonderful comment,


  3. I am so impressed by your work. I just love looking at it. There is so much to see on your blog, website and forums. I just love it all.


    • Thank you Eva,
      I appreciate the comment and glad you are enjoying the work. You are right on with your pottery comment. It affects my work a bunch. I am much more linear in my approach than I should be. Also, I enjoy being able to work with impasto in Painter…it feels like clay.

  4. Skip, I would like to watch the Eastern Waters Webinar but I can’t find it at Painter Talk. Any idea where it is?

  5. Skip, thank you!! I’ve always wanted to paint in the sumi-e and ukiyo-e style – I love all things Japanese. Your videos and brushes have certainly inspired me!!

    I came across two color resources on Traditional Colors of Japan. Hopefully they might be of some interest for others. Frankly, for myself, I am quite ‘Color Challenged’ and found that the palettes were of tremendous benefit . RGB and hexadecimal values are also given for the colors.

    Wikimedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditional_colors_of_Japan
    Ki Do Raku Japan: http://kidorakujapan.com/know/others_color.html

    Again, thank you! Your blog is so well organized and I love looking (digging!!) in your earlier posts!!

    Utmost regards.

    • Hey Marie,

      OHGosh…these are wonderful links. I am going to have to make a color set for Japanese colors. Really a great find; thank you bunches and bunches,


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