Meet Sumi Ink Club

Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara, art gallery installation. Photo by We Love You So.

“I have always found every single life form, not just human, to be extremely creative. Creativity has to extend beyond visual pleasure into how can we survive and how can we help the earth to survive. So creativity becomes a really urgent thing.”

—Sarah Rara, Sumi Ink Club

Sumi Ink Club is a participatory drawing project established in 2005 by artists Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara. Luke and Sarah both have diverse art practices that encompass group projects, installations, and music. One of their most notable characteristics is their creative generosity and inclusiveness—they truly believe in the creativity of all people and put cooperation ahead of their own artistic egos. In its mission statement, Sumi Ink Club states that it uses “group drawing as a means to open and fortify social interactions that bleed into everyday life. Sumi Ink Club is non-hierarchical: all ages, all humans, all styles.”

We were interested in working with Sumi for a few reasons: One, Luke and Sarah are fantastically creative, and came to Plumb with one idea after another that we never would have thought of ourselves. Two, we loved the idea of having group art—Sumi Ink Club produces work cooperatively in open-to-the-public meetings—as a part of Plumb. And three, we thought that Luke and Sarah’s far-ranging activities would result in notebooks that complemented the form and wit of Tucker Nichols’s work and the painterly beauty of Katherine Bradford’s pieces.

Sumi Ink Club meeting tips. Photo by New York City Steez.
Sumi Ink Club meeting tips. Photo by New York City Steez.

One of the great pleasures of working with Luke and Sarah was their open-mindedness, which led to notebooks of unique formats—a zine collection, a collector’s portfolio box, and a notebook of black paper (“Night,” complemented by its white-paper partner, “Day”). This expansive approach is definitely linked to their experience with Sumi Ink Club projects:

Sarah: I really use notebooks and I’m always complaining about them and about how I would prefer that they be designed. So the Plumb project seemed like a great opportunity to address those feelings.

Luke: For us Sumi Ink Club has been about feeding this idea that drawing is something that everyone can do, and to make it a more conversational thing where people draw together as if they were just talking to each other. So the idea of making sketchbooks that had that kind of activity in mind was really appealing to me. I don’t use traditional sketchbooks that much because for me drawing is a much more social thing. And the drawings themselves are more a way of taking notes than making something precious to be preserved. So drawings are much more of a living thing, the way that we draw.

Luke and Sarah hope their Plumb notebooks might inspire people who don’t see themselves as creative:

Luke: Sumi Ink Club holds collaborative drawing meetings that are open to the public. The result is a drawing that looks like one impossible person made it. Sumi ink itself is just charcoal dissolved in water, one of the most widely available and cheapest art materials. We use it because it’s either on or off, either black or nothing. It’s a nice way to organize a group drawing—everyone can add to the piece without the distinction of who drew what. Because everyone is using the same materials and the same size brush, working from all sides of the drawing, the result is what a group of humans drawing for, say, two hours would generate. There’s a certain density. When you zoom in, there are fascinating micro-moments of extreme difference, but when you zoom out you can see the similarity between drawings made by different people.

In addition to their work with Sumi Ink Club, Luke and Sarah have individual art practices as well as a well-known musical project, Lucky Dragons. One gets the sense that each informs the other and keeps Luke and Sarah inspired on many levels beyond what they might do on their own:

Sarah: For me, Sumi Ink Club and Lucky Dragons are very separate entities but they have affinities. I would say that Sumi Ink Club is a fan of Lucky Dragons and Lucky Dragons is a fan of Sumi Ink Club. But in a way, Sumi Ink Club is something we have released a lot of control of. We started it, but it has really taken on a life of its own and other people run it and have their own meetings.

Luke: Sumi Ink Club has been almost like a musical score: there are a few simple rules, and then anybody can play it. We do some sort of visual music things in Lucky Dragons too, so there’s a lot of back and forth. We have faith in the strength of a few simple rules and good materials, and we believe in people coming together in good faith to make something. If you can agree on some things, like the general form it will all take and the way it will all happen, you’re getting closer and closer to making something that is beautiful. Just the agreement itself is beautiful.


Further exploration on Sumi Ink Club, Luke Fischbeck, and Sarah Rara: