Bound into each Plumb notebook is an Artist Card, a perforated card bearing artwork and thoughts on creativity from the artist. Below are excerpts from Sumi Ink Club’s Artist Cards.
PLUMB: Can you describe what Sumi Ink Club is and how you guys work?
SUMI: 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.
PLUMB: What appeals to you about making group drawings?
SUMI: We’ve always thought about what it means when someone says this person is creative or that person is not creative. Sumi Ink Club shares the belief that every single life form, not just human, is extremely creative. Sumi Ink Club has been about feeding the idea that drawing is something everyone can do. Drawing can be a conversational activity, with people drawing together as if they were just talking to each other. And the drawings themselves are more a way of taking notes than making something precious to be preserved.
PLUMB: How do you explain the consistency in the drawings? The pieces done overseas versus in LA versus in New York all look like they’re a similar pattern, even though of course there is no pattern to it.
SUMI: Unlike with paint, with the ink there’s no layering. When you lay down ink and then draw more ink on top, it becomes one material without the sense of one drawing being on top of another. 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 micromoments of extreme difference, but when you zoom out you can see the similarity between drawings made by different people.
PLUMB: You just moved to a new studio. What makes an ideal creative environment for you?
SUMI: We really treasure being able to walk to the studio or just feel close enough that it’s not a major inconvenience to go there. Our new studio is within walking distance of home, so that’s been the biggest change. We can easily come home and cook food. But the ideal place also has access to good food so we can continue working—our last studio was across the street from a great Vietnamese restaurant. Definitely choose your studio based on proximity to good food! Other key things are a strong Internet signal and a good table. We finally got a solid table to replace the wonky piece of plywood we had on two sawhorses. It feels very real and really makes us want to sit down to work!
Simple physical things that allow you to enjoy being in your studio are crucial. We finally have enough room to have a couch or reading chair! Our last studio was shared, with people walking through and sometimes interrupting, but the new studio is completely private. We’re curious whether we’ll thrive in an environment without interruptions or miss the random visits.
PLUMB: The two of you live together, work together, travel together. What is your studio life like?
SUMI: We prefer to work alone in the studio, so we usually switch off, like different shifts. We’re rarely there together.
PLUMB: So despite the many parts of your lives that are about collaboration, you also have this binary way of working.
SUMI: We’ve come up with multiple channels of communication—actually holding meetings and emailing each other rather than just talking about everything all the time. And having the studio and house be separate is really important. For focus, it’s best to work at a place that’s designated as work only, versus working at home, on the road, or in a café.
PLUMB: The two of you have such diverse visual and music art careers. How can you handle so many activities?
SUMI: 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.
PLUMB: Over the years, what advice have you been given, good or bad?
SUMI: We’ve been blessed with great mentors who have offered us advice throughout the years, and we try to stick to four principles: 1. Never say you are too busy for a studio visit even if you’re in the middle of working on something and it’s a mess. This is actually the best time for a studio visit. For us, this is also about embracing chance situations and projecting good vibes—you should respectfully welcome anyone who wants to visit you as a gracious host, open for anything. 2. Work with your friends and become friends with those you work with. 3. Don’t get too bummed about rejection—even if you only get one out of a million things you apply for, it is still worth the exercise of writing, thinking, proposing, sharing—all valuable activities unto themselves. 4. Be clean and strive to be organized.