Chinese Brush SetChinese Brush Set base


Meditative Art - Zen Ink Painting

Here are notes for a talk to the Emerald Coast Meditation Society in September 2011, entitled, "Meditative Art"? Caroling demonstrates Zen ink painting, a meditative art. She tells how she got into it as a graduate student in art, writing an MFA thesis on the First Zen Buddhist Painters, then continuing the practice as her artwork and meditation evolved. Discussing the materials, process, mindset, culture, and goals of this art form leads to diving deeper to find the principles involved. The basic relationship of simple ideas to meditation is the same whether the discipline is writing, music, yoga, martial art, flower arranging, archery or any creative endeavor, including math. To conclude, everyone will have a go with the brush, getting a feel for it.

15 minutes demo

10 minutes history

10 minutes how it evolved

15 minutes Trying it


Leave 15 minutes early at 5:25. Get there at 5:45. Have newspapers from Nancy or kraft packing paper from me to put on three tables. Arrange six chairs around each table. 9 jars of water, one for each 2 people. 18 rags. How give them ink and water. Will have to go buy sumi-e ink at holly hobby or can use india ink that I have or buy at publix? Have supplies for talk on metal shelf rolling.


Done with meditation. Push back chairs. Push in table and supplies. While Nancy is saying stretch and then introducing me, I put square table in front of me with books, ink kit, extra water, ink stone and pile of examples. Maybe could use square table? Or floor. Learned to use cushion between legs and inflatable little thermarest doubled under me. I can kneel that way for 15 minutes. That's what my demo took. Talked about the first part of my history, through mather and finding ink painting direction.

During demo I need to talk about the materials and the process and the aim. Could do deer lichen, which to me is a meditative plant. It enriches the soil and its fungus part gets nutrients and moisture from it, although it is not rooted, just tied down lightly with rhizines. Sort of levitating. It's alga part photosynthesizes, making energy from light, it is a transducer, magical to me, providing energy to the fungus to build the physical structure for the lichen. It looks like breathing of earth whenever I see its light fluffy presence in the woods. The camera often glares it out, can't capture the fine luminous filaments. So as I'm grinding this ink I'm also grinding down my memories, experiences, thoughts, into a concentrated medium.. Not really knowing or planning what will come out. Lichenizing.

When I think the ink is ground enough, I dip brush in water to wet it. Dry with cloth. Dip in in and hopefully it is black. Contemplate paper. Dash off circle or deer lichen (not). Think I'll try this now and see how long it takes.

How and When I got into it

I was a graduate college art student without direction. In addition to various teachers, I had seen art in Minnesota, Europe, New York, and San Francisco. In 1958, life began to gell for me. I buckled down to finished my degree, realizing academia is part of me that I love. I studied oriental art from Mather. Suddenly my interest in Zen meshed with my need for a medium of expression. I began to ink paint.

Zen book by HerrigelIn 1957, at City Lights Bookstore in North Beach, SF, with beatniks, I found Suzuki's book on Zen Buddhism. I brought it back to MN and shared with my friends Bob and Nancy Pirsig. I was really impressed. It meant a lot to me. Through Pirsigs, I met David and Beverly White, who had studied at a Zen monastery in Japan. I read Zen in the Art of Archery. I studied oriental art history as part of my MFA degree. I took all the classes available from Mather, who taught them. I began to do ink paintings on rice paper with Sumi ink ground with the ink stick on the ink stone.

When working on my Master's thesis, "The First Zen Buddhist Painters: Liang K'ai, Mu Chi, and Ying Yu-Chien, and their relationship to Contemporary Art", my interest in Zen deepened. I ferreted out any information I could find on Zen and ink painting. Read a lot of the new books coming out about Zen. Went to hear Alan Watts talk when he came to town.

I photocopied every picture I could find by the painters. The library had the Japanese art magazine Kokka. I studied the pictures. I copied them in ink and tried to emulate their method. I struggled with how to mesh this approach with my intesest in Abstract Expressionism that had giant canvases and colored paint. The technical and material presence of the new art materials were far from the austere minimalism of the original Zen painters. The huge colored paintings took a lot more resources to create: more time space energy and money.

Color of course introduces a whole new set of technical considerations. The original Zen painters only implied color, with their black and white. I read Japanese Zen priest Basho's haiku-laden book about his walking trip through Japan. I tried to put poems with my drawings. But basic to that, it was inspiring to my sense of how to view reality. It was the philosophy of Zen. The essence was my inspiration. I struggled with it almost as hard as Unitarianism (I was brought up as a church-going Unitarian). I see my moves in life and art as a direct result of Zen. I have explained this in Liberating the Handmaiden (stained glass). And my visions.

When I found Zen ink painting as a grad student, I had watched my mom painting landscapes, sitting outside with eye going back and forth from vista to canvas, needing the immediate stimulus, almost trying to short out any contemplation. In art classes we drew from a model the same way. I had been trained to think that if you didn't work from nature directly, your work would be lacking.

The Zen ink painters of China and Japan had a completely different tradition. Say my subject is persimmons. I contemplate persimmons. I seek to know the essence of persimmons, singly and perhaps in association with something else. I try to have no distance between me and the persimmon, no subject vs object. So I virtually become the persimmon. In this process, I do not have to continually observe the persimmon. I might have seen and eaten it yesterday. The painting matures in my inner vision. The soft tones. The stem connecting to the tree. The bird peck with outline of its bill. The ripe heaviness of the form. The slight wrinkling of the skin. The way it seems to talk to the other persimmons. It's all in my mind. When I feel ready I paint quickly. It is simple. Doesn't need color. Only the essence remains, nothing superfluous. And it might have some of my mood upon the eating in the calligraphy, the flourish of my brush. I hope that's not misleading. There is so much that could be said of Zen painting, but to find just the right words is hard.

How it carried on

Oh argh, the pain of coding. Such a thick medium. Remember how drawn I was to ink painting after oil painting. And painting after printmaking. And printmaking after photography. I wanted to be more direct, to get to the core vision with less craft and thought and pre-this and process that. But coding for the computer is quintessentially indirect. Skip a stained glass period and enter an electronic and technical writing for the computer industry stage in the 1980s, leading to my current web art.

Mac Calligraphy software and the Zen and the Art of MacIntosh book helped me evolve meditative art in the HyperCard Zen and the Art of Dividing by Zero.

MacCalligraphy box coverEnso in Zen and the Art of MacintoshZen and the Art of Dividing by Zero splash


Ink painting kit. Paper, scrolls, expansion in expression, expansion in technique.second part is the form. something to pour this medit. into. Have to have a form that is communicable. social being in culture and want to show to other people. recognize.

May have been evolved by others. writing, notes, haiku, calligraphy, long texts see that in some of the scroll painting.
Zen forms. basically paper and ink added color spread onto scrolls, vertical, fans show examples.

Need to express something often figures of monks, drinking, fishing, chopping wood, things on the mind.

Talking about context, history (what I know), When studied in it 50s.
part of this talk is going to be finding these principles, Zen ptg as example and where it went. 20th c Zen art book. michael green. find a central kind of expression enso, nancy’s book. or if it is the person, who is the meditator. person or daruma.

start with copy i made and go into craft, have to have that developed. we have writing and photography. Zen photos? just like medit is in everything. exple of chinese brush ptg many sources of these materials on the web

. creating a visual art need a material to preserve the statement. in this case is paper. for thoughts maybe have someone appretice to repeat it. this part so close to shore hard to hear what I’m saying.

medit art. boby doesn’t take photos, but values the one I took. have to get a brush went from tiny line to thick. how strokes varied, amt of water, how dry brush, all had cultural meaning. always tie-ins to rest of culture. not in thesis what is yang stroke. conventional ways of presenting trees, caligraphy that and repeat until have tree.
photo of weed fragments. like jillß gaupin doing iphotos. She’d like that. here come the oriental women, so friendly and open almost starting conversation, I point camera away to water. Then the unfriendly ones. Personifying variation in brush strokes. looked away.
about ink, need recipe and how
where is Zen painting going, Zenart. we’ll have a display, need to think how to set up so they can look while we’re talking to enhacnce their meditation. they would set up something in a ring. todo ask nancy how her’s are framed. what can she bring so can think how to set it up.

For the demo, will I have a preselected subject, such as the enso? Seems to me that would be best.

Worked mostly on ma (meditative art). Nancy wants a summary. todo: put the two standards together that are split in the otwtmp book so I can see the language. Interesting sheet i found in the box of drawings. Did I do that or liz? Must reproduce and send to her. Lovely picture of her.
todo: above

Comments on ink paintings, brush paintings. cat320 on paper towel, one of the oldest. I had taken an oriental art history class. Learned about sumi-e. todo lookup exact meaning of that. So much I have forgotten.
324 cup. classic mass stroke I talked about in my thesis.
introspective326, combo of mass stroke on bottles, outline of hand and paper, and comment. About my process, my art and being.
dancer329 expressive and positive
catFight331 fleeting moment, essence. the poor big chast chased cat. spontaneous feeling. Probably needs some explanation in that the big cat was our pet that was a fixed (chaste) female older and had been an only cat for years. Suddenly two unwelcome male cats arrived as cat-sitting for a friend. The little one was young and continually bothered Comere.
Jo334 just a nice scribbly early folded paper towel variety.
. Bio should be more specific about how I studied the Zen ink painters.
Heck going backward:
Now looking at the roughshod collection of reproductions of my ink paintings Trips/Art/MN/ink/mnInks.htm
This is probably the best description of Zen art: Trips/Art/MN/writing/mfaSection2.htm
Now looking at the roughshod collection of reproductions of my ink paintings Trips/Art/MN/ink/mnInks.htm
This is probably the best description of Zen art: Trips/Art/MN/writing/mfaSection2.htm

See 2001 scsibackupc4 7 gate 1 or 8gatez.
this disc has 13 ink paintings with tiffs the size of the snapshots. Should put them on web. Except I’m not in the mood to like them. Must take a walk. It is 70 degrees out. Did a dietzNfnc and saved a jpeg as dietzNChristoFence.
6/15/07Looking at sf.htm, see that it says nothing about the colored ink paintings, the scroll paintings I did there. I’ve really forgotten. Did I do these when lived at Mary Ellen’s? Or 1090 Page? Or Laguna? I started the water color or colored ink paintings in NY, before LA and SF, CA. See drawings of Irwin and studies for landscapes that year. In Pasedena, just did glass, I think. Oils when first moved to SF, jobless. At 1090 page, I did glass and oils. But maybe I started the water color scrolls there. Hard to remember those days.
10/9/06haven’t linked the turtle ink painting page into art.
8/28/067gate disc from 2001 has some of the ink paintings which I should do full size.
4/24/06catalog of pictures, 2006 (in disc Pictures06-3-18)
2006_03_15 has many ink paintings that must be in the box over my closet. Maybe of interest are the yoga pix shown at the women's center. I like this one especially: 9989-90 ink painting. MN. brushNink_9990.tif. This old brush might have a cold ... give him a drink, ink and old bowl for lifting shadows
1/7/06 Interesting drawing the ropes, called slink. At first paused and gathered stillness before slightly careful outline of each one. Increasingly feeling need not to pause, not to know, to be clumsy, to let it tumble chaotically. And it is roughly done. I recognize that’s how I ink painted. Then not so aware of the choice. Perhaps sacrificing recognition for truthfulness. That painting at Nancy’s of Path Through Weeds. Each stroke careful, finely dancing. No chaos. Masterful. That’s what people like, the achieved mastery. The inner control.
Now I’m relinguishing control, asking to be an instrument of evolution. Help us see the way, find our path. Now can I put this info on the page or in the blog? The page is the blog. Could put it in sound track. Must set up video camera to be on the screen so that my sound is synced with the work. Perhaps the movie will be the artwork, not the Flash, but the camera. I could speak these writings. So tired of writing.

Oh argh, the pain of coding. Such a thick medium. Remember how drawn I was to ink painting after oil painting. And painting after printmaking. And printmaking after photography. I wanted to be more direct, to get to the core vision with less craft and thought and pre-this and process that. But coding takes the cake for indirect.
In disklist, everything that is treetops is that ink painting. S
summer back and begged to continue MFA. In summer school studied oriental art and started ink painting.

Pitiful how much of my time devoted to small self. Animals are much closer to whole self, even though they don’t devote time to it at all, the are it much more. Even though they think only of the small self, they think less. This thought train started with vision of the cat ink painting comere (kamir) and how that is the closest of my artworks to expressing the meditative state of whole self. The tail, the ears, the transparent body. The wrinkles in the medium or ground, the paper. The cat herself, mostly meditating.
z/0 well I'm working at putting the z in the explore part of my book. Started with references. Pulled some of the long quotes out of my journal. Am looking at Hui Neng's book, and others. O I made a Thinker's section in explore--to put Pirsig and Fuller. Because fuller was not strictly math. and I didn't know where to put pirsig. Not sure he has anything to contribute, come to think of it.
Main thing that has come up this a.m. is that I started my journal search with the math. However, Zen is part of my intellectual history since I discovered it in about 1958. So I may write about Zen as a flashback, since I doubt if it figures in my journal much.



The talk

Could start by doing it silently. Then talk. I'm in a chair, looking at my cushion and see what comes to me. I get up and ready my materials. Get water, need pitcher of water. Pour into stone. Grind and ponder a little. Look at paper. Wet brush. Need paint cloths to wipe brush. Perhaps do an enso. A circle, a symbol of wholeness.

Then start an explanation.

How it applies to our day of silence

In addition to meditation, there are non-verbal interactions between us, our activities, and our environment. In the breaks perhaps one could practice a mediative art. For example, on one retreat walk outdoors, a person gathered samples from plants. When we returned, he broke the silence and told how his Native American grandmother identified and used these plants. His spontaneous sharing was valuable and memorable but it was out of keeping with the intent of the day. How could he have channeled his experience and energy more harmoniously for himself and others?

On the walk, he could have gathered the plants by intense experience of them at the time, rather than picking them. He would be mediating with the acorn, being an acorn, feeling the sap giving him life, generating the seed of the next generation. Still with him during the break he would like to create with this experience. Depending on his nature and what materials he has, he could compose a haiku or short writing. Or a drawing or ink painting. Or both. Or act out the acorn as a modern dance. Or make a journal entry. If he feels like sharing the expression he can add it to the display. Possibly we would discuss it at noon or end when we share.

List of what to bring

Speak up. What do you think?

You might say things like this:

Summary of meanings

At the meeting, we summarized results of our circle. We asked if there were aspects of interest to pursue.

How it applies to day of silence

The ECMS sponsors 12 retreats on the equinoxes and solstices leading up to the solstice December 21, 2012. There are four events each year.

See 12 solstices and equinoxes.

Background rice paper image courtesy

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