Suzuri (Ink stone)

On New Year’s Day, I dusted off the ink-stone and ink stick that I hadn’t touched for years, poured water on the stone, and started grinding the ink stick. After grinding for a while, I dipped the brush in the ink and wrote one stroke on a piece of paper. I thought I had ground long enough, but the ink was too thin. I ground some more and tried again. No, not ready yet. I ground more. After I repeated a few times, I realized that I was doing it all wrong.

My first mistake was where I put the water. The ink stone has two parts: oka (=hill) and umi (=ocean). The oka is the higher part where you grind the ink stick, and the umi is the lower part that the ink flows into. I should’ve put water on the oka instead of in the umi. My second mistake was I put too much water at once. The right amount is a quarter size of water. When the ink becomes thick enough, you put another quarter size of water and grind more. As you repeat the process, ink will eventually flow into the umi. That’s when the ink aroma drifts in the air and you can dip the brush. You will know when ink is ready without even trying a stroke.

But my biggest mistake was that my mind wasn’t in it completely. I had forgotten all the basics because I wasn’t present at the moment. I cared about time more than ink. I calculated how much time I had and tried to make it work within the timeframe. To make beautiful quality ink, you need to be fully present. Hastiness doesn’t cut it. Also, force doesn’t make quality ink. When you grind, you need to be gentle. It is said sick people and little girls can make good ink because they don’t have strength. Ideally, the ink-stone feels only the weight of the ink stick. That’s how gentle it should be.

Making beautiful quality ink takes time and patience.

The same principle can be applied to almost anything. Relationship, work, stories, whatever it is, if you want to create something with beautiful quality, you cannot rush it. You need to start small and take time to grow. Using force may work out in a way, but the quality doesn’t come with it.

Today I pulled out the ink set once again and started grinding the ink stick. I’ll take as long as it takes. I’m here. I have no time limit.

sumi-e (Ink wash painting)