the the opinion is a pictorial technique consisting in using only one color (in watercolor or in India ink) which will be diluted to obtain different intensities of color. Handcrafted black ink sticks then offer shades of monochromatic colors in relation to the support. “Monochrome” in ink should not be understood in the sense of pure black. White is obtained by the whiteness of the support or sometimes by heightening white (chalk, gouache or white India ink for example). The Chinese also use Chinese ink sticks in different colors (red, yellow, green, blue, etc.).

By extension, the word “wash” is used to designate works produced with this technique (for example “Victor Hugo wash”). The use of natural squid ink or sepia gives light brown tones characteristic of old washes. Another extension, “wash” is used to designate a way of working a very diluted color as opposed to a more dense work, for example a watercolor is made up of successive washes enhanced with details.

From a practical point of view there are several washing methods:

  • dilute the color before using it;
  • soak the paper then apply a color that will dilute directly on the paper;
  • put the color on the paper then rework it with a brush soaked in water.

The effects obtained can be very different.

Travel through mountain passes (関 山 行旅 圖) by Dai Jin (1388-1462.)

This technique comes from China (VIe century), whose landscapes under the Song dynasty (960-1279) are very famous. Then it was used for a long time in Korea in Japan (Xe century) and Viet Nam. The Chinese black ink and water painting technique called shui-mo hua (transl. ch.: 水墨畫 ; ch. simp. : 水墨画 ; py: shuǐmòhuà ; ko. : 수묵화 ; viet. : tranh thuỷ mặc ; Revised Romanization of Korean: sumug hwa, literally, “drawing or painting in water (and) ink”), which has been translated as sumi-e (墨 絵?, meaning “ink drawing or painting”) in Japanese, the dominant pictorial art at the time of Muromachi (1336-1573), and designates both dry ink and wash paintings.

The term “Indian ink” has become a common term in France and it is called Indian ink in the United Kingdom. This should not make us forget that the craft ink sticks made in different regions of China or neighboring countries or even in one workshop are not made in the same way, as are the paper, brushes and stones. ink that is found in a large number of varieties. India ink is traditionally presented in the form of a hard stick, black or of different colors, which the artist dilutes in water in the ink stone, allowing him to warm up the wrist and the arm, while thus controlling the quality of the base liquid mixture.

In the Far East, the stroke is the sign of the breath of life (transl. Ch.: ; ch. simp. : ; py: ; jap. : 氣 / ki ; ko. : 기 / gi ; viet. : khí), it is thrown vigorously on the leaf in a natural flow. This flow does not allow repentance, it definitely leaves its mark on paper, a notion of spontaneity is therefore omnipresent and corresponds to the characteristics of the wash. This reasoning certainly stems from Chinese Taoist philosophy, permeating all the techniques and culture of the Far East. In Japan, historically, it is not possible to separate classic monochrome painting from spirituality. It is mainly Buddhism, and in particular Zen Buddhism having its source directly in China in Chan Buddhism, which inspires this art, with masters like Shūbun, Sesshū or Josetsu[1]. Monochrome painting is based in Asia on a deep mastery of the art of the line, acquired both in calligraphy and in painting, with sometimes very different techniques, while Western wash painters seek more games of shadow and light which creates the form, where in the Far East the form is the line. Furthermore, in Buddhism, “The form is the void and the void is the form” (Heart Sutra), thus joining Taoist thought where the void ( / , ) is a fundamental notion of philosophy.

“We knead clay to make vases. The use of vases depends on its emptiness. Doors and windows are drilled to make a house. The use of the house depends on their emptiness. This is why utility comes from being, use is born from non-being[2]. “ Classical monochrome painting cannot be understood apart from these teachings.

It was only from the Renaissance that the wash was used by Europeans.

In the Far East, in addition to being used for the realization of paintings often accompanied by a calligraphic poem, it is also used in the decorative arts, in particular for the realization of fans, screens and all kinds of accessories.

The wash is also used in the illustration of stories (mythology, scenes of battles or diplomatic events), first in a scroll form (in Chinese 卷轴, juànzhóu Where 卷轴, juànzhóu, in Japanese : makimono (巻 物?) Where kakejiku (掛 け 軸?)), then as a codex.

Painting of mountain and water landscapes (shanshui) of Song China, Korea and Japan are the most famous themes in the West of East Asian wash. But there are also themes of plants, flowers, insects, birds, seafood or other animals, which are all a form of exaltation of nature.

The washings are generally carried out there using a wash brush, but sometimes also with the finger and the nail or with various tools.

In Europe, the use of wash by the great classical painters will serve mainly as a tool to study chiaroscuro. The best example is surely Rembrandt who chose the wash for all his sketches or Nicolas Poussin who created small models with characters which allowed him to choose the desired light and then to immortalize the scene using the wash. The bistre wash will be used by Jean-Honoré Fragonard to capture on the spot what he has in front of his eyes: here the wash is a technical achievement, an evolution of the graphics towards more flexibility.

The main difficulty with washing, as with watercolor, lies in the fact that it does not allow repentance. Finding the right balance between meticulous detail and thick, vigorous lines is a more specific difficulty with washing.

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