Highland Park artist works in Japanese style
by Kay Thomas
Lake Forest Senior Center, 100 E. Old Mill Road, Lake Forest
8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, through June 14
Updated: May 22, 2012 8:50PM
Highland Park’s Kay Thomas’ first exposure to sumi-e, or Japanese ink painting, was an art lesson show on public television in 1963. “This caught my attention and intrigued me,” explains Thomas.
Charactistically Asian, sumi-e painting, or literally, ink painting, is the art of extracting the essence of the object in the fewest strokes. Most often, sumi-e is painted on rice paper or silk. There are three primary forms of this type of painting: Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
Thomas said that the Japanese style of sumi-e is characterized by a more straightforward depiction of the subject.
An exhibition of Thomas’ sumi-e paintings, as well as some of her watercolor paintings, is on display through June 14 at the Lake Forest Senior Center, 220 E. Deerpath Road.
“I enjoy the simplicity of sumi-e,” Thomas says. “You can’t putter around it. You have to do it right or start over.”
Thomas notes that the Zen monks practiced sumi-e painting because it taught them patience, concentration and discipline.
When Thomas discovered sumi-e she was living in New York City, where she was able to study under Motoi Oi, founder of the Sumi-e Society of America and later on under Evalyn Aaron, who was a former student of Oi’s. Thomas also studied painting at the School of Chinese Brushwork in New York City with Wang Chi Yaun and, when she moved to the Chicago area, continued her studies with Monica Liu, Charles Liu and Guang Xin Qian.
Just spending time in the outdoors surrounded by beautiful scenery is an inspiration for Thomas, who also belongs to a group of watercolor painters in Lake Forest. Weather permitting, the group meets and paints outdoors, sometimes at various private North Shore gardens. Scenes and objects she records in her sketchbook often serve as inspiration for her next sumi-e painting.
“I really paint anything that interests me. You can paint anything, but there are many classical paintings including the bamboo or the chrysanthemum [and the orchid and the plum tree],” Thomas explains.
Also an experienced photographer, Thomas sometimes uses her photos, or, other photos she may see elsewhere, such as a newspaper, as the source of her paintings.
The subjects of Thomas’ sumi-e paintings at the Senior Center run the gamut — from animals, such as a fox, birds and a black swan, to landscape pieces and a number of floral paintings.
Thomas also shares her love and knowledge of sumi-e painting as a teacher, passing on this art form to young and old alike. She has an extensive teaching background, having taught at places like the Adult Education Department of Highland Park High School, the Chicago Botanic Garden, the David Adler Cultural Center in Libertyville, the Field Museum and the Japanese American Service Committee in Chicago.
She is also a member and board member of many art organizations including Sumi-e Society of America, Sumi-e Midwest and the Wilmette Art Guild. Thomas’ works have won many prizes and works and are a part of many private and public collections.
“I enjoy seeing the students discover something new,” said Thomas . “Also, many students find inspiration and enjoyment out of learning this art form. It expands students’ minds and opens doors for many because sometimes the student discovers talent he didn’t even know he had.”