By Rachel M. Anderson
(Maple Grove, Minn.) - “Look what I just did!”
“Wow, I can’t believe how real that looks.”
“Look, I painted a panda bear and he’s eating bamboo.”
“My dragon is breathing fire!”
There was a sense of excitement and surprise in the voices of fourth graders at Weaver Lake Elementary in Maple Grove, Minnesota, recently. In less than an hour’s time, they had learned how to paint a masterpiece suitable for framing.
The kids were the lucky recipients of a visit by sumi-e artist Yvonne Palka, a part-time Maple Grove resident. Sumi-e, or Asian brush painting, is a style of painting that has been practiced for well over1,000 years. Buddhist monks were the first known sumi-e artists. Today, it is a style practiced by artists around the world.
Palka was first introduced to sumi-e by a friend back in 1998 and has been hooked ever since. She especially enjoys painting birds, panda bears and dragons, the mythical creatures she has been making up stories about since her own children were young.
“Dragons captivate my imagination because deep down they are the guardians of the sacred - and they are unpredictable. I find them delightful to paint because they mirror my own moods when I paint them - and since they are mythical beasts they can be painted in so many ways and manifest so many different qualities,” says Palka.
Dragons inspired her first book, Dragon Fire Ocean Mist, an award-winning adventure story set in the Pacific Northwest that she both wrote and illustrated. They are also prominently featured in her latest project, Super Simple Sumi-e, an instruction book that gives youngsters an introduction to the various brush strokes and techniques required to bring their paintings to life.
Palka says she got her inspiration for Super Simple Sumi-e from the instruction books a friend had brought back from Asia. Super-Simple Sumi-e begins with an introduction to the various brush strokes kids will need to learn, then shows them how to use them to create trees, flowers, mice, rabbits, birds, panda bears and dragons. After three years of doing presentations in schools, she has developed effective ways to teach sumi-e to kids.
“I start by telling the kids a little about sumi-e and what it is, then show them how to hold the brush and get paint on the brush effectively, how to make a variety of lines and how to load the brush with black and grey,” says Palka. “I have been very impressed with how quickly the kids pick it up.”
When she first started sumi-e painting, Palka followed the traditional method, actually making her own ink. She would grind an ink stick composed of pine soot on a stone with a shallow depression craved in it, slowly mixing in water. Because the process can take some time, these days she comes to the schools with a bottle of ink ready to go.
When she appeared at Weaver Lake Elementary recently, the first thing she did was set up the materials so everything would be ready to go when the kids came into the classroom, then she demonstrated how to bring animals to life on the page. Librarian Mary Litwinczuk says she was “wowed” by the paintings the kids created.
“The teachers tell me that the students still talk about how great it was. In fact, one student liked the presentation so much, her teacher allowed her to skip her physical education class so she could take part in the next presentation,” says Litwinczuk.
Palka says that while the book is intended for children, adults are purchasing it too. “For those who have always wanted to paint but just couldn’t do it, now they have an excuse to learn,” she says.
About the Author
Yvonne Palka is a retired college professor who taught psychology, biology and interdisciplinary studies first at the University of Washington and later at Antioch University in Seattle before retiring in 2000. She is also a grandmother, biologist and naturalist who is passionate about introducing children and adults to the wonders of the natural world. Yvonne loves sumi-e (Asian brush painting) for the simple elegance with which it captures the spirit of nature. Inspired by this simplicity she teaches children and adults the essence of sumi-e painting in schools and other community settings. Yvonne lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, and Minneapolis, Minnesota. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Super Simple Sumi-e goes to support arts education programs for children.
Super Simple Sumi-e retails for $14.95 and is available for purchase at Amazon.com and on the author’s website, www.nwdragons.com. The author’s first sumi-e illustrated book, Dragon Fire, Ocean Mist, an adventure story set in the Pacific Northwest, is also available for purchase. It retails for $12.95.
Palka hopes to publish more sumi-e instruction books in the future. Among the topics she is considering, how to paint the animals of the Pacific Northwest and Minnesota.
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