Sue Lindemulder, Art Teacher

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Sumi-e and Haiku by Yanya Parikh 

Music: Haru-saki-ginuta by Inada-no-Umahijiri

Japanese Sumi-e Painting/Haiku

A three day lesson plan for 7th grade by Sue Lindemulder

Sumi-e is the creation of a painting using black ink. This type of painting emphasizes an economy of brush strokes.

Sumi-e painting is generally done in three generations. The first lines represent the grandfather and are the lightest in color. They will represent the oldest part of the tree. The second generation will be younger, the father. This paint will be a darker gray, representing the branches of the tree. The youngest generation will be be represented by pine needles, and are black in color.

Japan is an island nation that has a rich heritage in the traditions of the past, but it is now embracing the technological advances of the present as it moves into the future.


This painting will be of a pine tree. Show examples of Sumi-e painting. Read examples of Haiku Poetry. If there are pine trees on school property have students look at these and perhaps do a couple of quick sketches.



  • Sumi-e ink or black tempera paint. (We used tempera paint.)
  • Watercolor brushes (#10 if possible)
  • Water containers/water
  • Newspaper
  • Newsprint paper
  • 5 oz. Paper cups
  • Student grade watercolor paper 12" X 18"
  • Felt tip, Pilot, and/or ballpoint pens, black


Day 1

  1. Each student will cover his or her table with newspaper. They will have a piece of newsprint, a brush and access to water and paint. Two students can share paint and water. Put about 1/2 inch of paint into one paper cup and about an inch of paint in the other. This will be done for every two students. Have students add about 1 1/2 inches of water to the cup with the lesser amount of paint and stir.

    NOTE: Students will work directly with paint on their paper. Today's work is strictly a practice session. At the end of the class they may save or throw it out. Students are to try at least two trees. They may overlap to make the best use of the paper.

  2. Use the diluted paint first. Use the paper vertically and start near the bottom of the page. Apply pressure to create a wider line. As the line continues up gradually decrease the amount of pressure so that the line becomes thinner. This line will become one side of the tree and will eventually become one of the branches. The trunk and branches of a tree are not perfectly straight. As the brush approaches the top of the tree quickly pull it off so that a thin line and point are created. Try not to touch the top of the page. Students may want to try it on the newspaper.

  3. Move an inch or so away from the original line. Repeat the previous procedure. The second line may bend or make an angle. This is the other side of the tree.

  4. About a third of the way up the tree trunk draw in the crotch of the tree connecting the two sides of the tree. (Continue to use the diluted paint.)

  5. Use vertical strokes to fill in the space between the two lines. This makes the trunk of the tree.

  6. Add half of the full strength paint to the diluted paint. The branches age not all straight but they do grow upward. Students may add a few more large branches and then a few smaller branches to the larger ones. Keep it simple. Use the same technique as before, applying less and less pressure so that the end of the branch is the thinnest.

  7. Clean the brush and then use the undiluted paint. Place dots of paint on various points on the branches. Start with a few, more can be added later.

  8. Re-ink the brush. Place the point of the brush on the dot and make a quick, short line, pulling the brush quickly off the paper. Do this five to seven times at each dot creating a cluster of pine needles. Two or three dots can be added to the base of the cluster to create berries. This would not be done on every cluster.

  9. Try a new tree.

Day 2

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry. It is connected in some way with nature. It may have a surprise ending. Haiku has seventeen syllables in stanzas of 5,7, and 5 syllables.

Branches give shelter.
Who knows who lives within them.
Then in the quiet ---- song.

The rain falls softly.
The drops intensify in weight.
Birds hide in a tree.

  1. Read several Haiku in class and then work on several as a class

  2. Give students some ideas to work with: pine trees, birds, frogs, butterflies, a pond stream or waterfall.

  3. Ask students to add to the list. Remind them that the 5, 7, 5 syllable lines are absolute. Have students write 3 &endash; 4 Haiku poems.

Day 3

  1. Provide all painting supplies again. This time students will use watercolor paper. Again the paper needs to be used vertically to reflect the regal majesty of the trees.

  2. Using the same technique as on the first day, again paint a tree. (It might be useful if the tree were painted slightly off center to provide more space to write the Haiku.)

  3. When the painting is completed have students choose the best of their poems. Place a sheet of lined paper beneath the painting. Lightly write or print the poem in the open space using pencil. Proof read and trace using a black ink pen. When dry erase.

  4. The piece was then signed in the lower right hand corner of the picture plane (not the lower corner, there should be a frame of space that surrounds the work ).

    NOTE: Asian students were encouraged too sign their name using Asian characters as well as signing in English. The most important thing is the piece of work, not the signature.

California Visual Art Standards, 7th grade,3.1 and 4.4.