A solid block of black ink is left to soak in water. It becomes softer and easier to grind. It is Japanese sumi, an intense black ink made from soot and glue and used for calligraphy. It is ground with a pestle and mortar, or perhaps a shallow black stone container. The intensity of this ink is compelling. Deeply black, true black. Quite unlike blue black, red black, or brown black. Mixed with water, the ink generates a palette of grays. From the lightest delicate wash to the densest black: more like a paste than a liquid. It sits on top of a wash of water and dries into a flat matte surface. This deep black takes the light away.

To begin with, the ink is applied with a tiny delicate brush to make intense, highly figurative drawings of crowds on paper: mourning crowds,...

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