Jump-Start the Year With Sumi Ink Club

Image of completed sumi ink painting

The first day of school can be exciting, emotional, and challenging for many students. It is our role as art educators to create a welcoming classroom to foster creativity. We need to spark their interests and capture their attention during those first few classroom experiences.

Image of students painting

One great activity that can create a pleasant and creative experience for students is to host the Sumi Ink Club. Students’ interests will be immediately piqued by the name and the idea of a club. The Sumi Ink Club was started by artists Sarah Rara and Luke Fischbeck. The “Club” fosters human connections through the creation of art. The artists invited anyone to make art with them. They hung large sheets of blank white paper, put out Sumi Ink and brushes, and welcomed people to paint any images they wanted.

Here’s how to host a Sumi Ink Club right in your classroom:

Image of students painting

  1. Show students this video about the origins of the Sumi Ink Club. It’s also a sweet little love story.
  2. Lay out a large sheet of blank white paper.
  3. Have students wear aprons.
  4. Give each student a bamboo paintbrush or basic watercolor brush.
  5. Put out cups of black ink (these no-spill cups are a great option). Yasutomo Ink is traditionally used by the club. It is made from vegetable oil soot and is permanent and waterproof. Another lower cost and the washable option is to use black tempera paint. Add a little water to the paint to make it closer to the consistency of the ink.
  6. Play relaxing instrumental music.

Give students these simple guidelines:

  • Have fun painting.
  • Don’t use words or text.
  • Move around the paper and work on different sections.
  • It’s okay to add on to someone else’s drawing.

Remind students of Sarah Rara’s advice that, “the art is important, but the most important thing is the conversation.” Encourage students to talk to each other as they paint. It is also great to paint with your students. This will help them get to know you and see you as an artist as well as an educator.

Sumi Ink Club is perfect to host on the first day of school as it takes all of the nervous energy and channels it into the painting. Students don’t have to worry about what they are creating as it will not be judged in any way. If they are not sure what to paint, they can simply add on to someone else’s work. If they get stuck, they can move around to another section.

Art forms bonds with students and connects them.

Having students all work on one large work of art builds community and can strengthen the class from day one. The social interactions between students are as important as the art created. The relaxed atmosphere of the classroom sets the tone for the entire year. Students are welcome in the classroom.

The Sumi Ink Club is an excellent low cost, low effort art project that is welcoming and inviting to all. You can host the club many times throughout the school year. You may even want to try out some extension ideas.

Follow Up Ideas:

  • Use a color instead of black ink.
  • Tape up a large sheet of paper on a blank wall for students to paint on throughout the school year.
  • Encourage other students and faculty to collaboratively work on the painting.
  • Cut up sections and give to students to glue down onto a larger artwork.
  • Cut up the painting and use sections for sketchbook covers. Check out these cool Sumi Ink Notebooks, Journals, and Art Boxes.
  • Use the large paper to fold into art portfolios.

Benefits of the Sumi Ink Club

  • Gets students moving and working together.
  • Results are visually captivating.
  • You will have a large and impactful work of art ready for the back-to-school open house.
  • Teaches students doodling is welcome, encouraged, and a great way to spark ideas or take a creative break.
  • Low-cost art activity.
  • Easy setup and cleanup.

You may encounter on the first day a particularly timid or shy student who does not want to paint with other students. To differentiate, offer a smaller doodle sheet of paper with one mark for them to add on to. Allow them to pick the drawing material if they don’t want to paint or trace a doodle of another student from a different class. Finally, you could give them black paper and white chalk to explore their own imagery.

Image of completed sumi ink painting

The Sumi Ink Club is based on creating and developing human connections and is a great way to jump-start the year. It is an easy, low cost, engaging first-day project that will benefit your students long after the first day of school.

Have you ever used Sumi Ink?

Do you encourage doodling and mark making exercises in your classroom?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Christina Chang

Christina Chang, a high school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She enjoys building a welcoming art classroom for all students to create in.

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