The Beautiful Art of Making Japanese Calligraphy Ink Out of Soot & Glue

Found­ed in 1577, Kobaien remains Japan’s old­est man­u­fac­tur­er of sumi ink sticks. Made of soot and ani­mal glue, the ink stick—when ground against an ink­stone, with a lit­tle water added—produces a beau­ti­ful black ink used by Japan­ese cal­lig­ra­phers. And, often, a 200-gram ink stick from Kobaien can cost over $1,000.

How can soot and ani­mal glue com­mand such a high price? As the Busi­ness Insid­er video above shows, there’s a fine art to mak­ing each ingredient—an art honed over the cen­turies. Watch­ing the arti­sans make the soot alone, you imme­di­ate­ly appre­ci­ate the com­plex­i­ty beneath the appar­ent sim­plic­i­ty. When you’re done watch­ing how the ink gets made, you’ll undoubt­ed­ly want to watch the arti­sans mak­ing cal­lig­ra­phy brush­es, an art form that has its own fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry. Enjoy!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

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Learn Cal­lig­ra­phy from Lloyd Reynolds, the Teacher of Steve Jobs’ Own Famous­ly Inspir­ing Cal­lig­ra­phy Teacher

The Mod­el Book of Cal­lig­ra­phy (1561–1596): A Stun­ning­ly Detailed Illu­mi­nat­ed Man­u­script Cre­at­ed over Three Decades

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.