Paints like lightning
Artist continues her family’s creative legacy through a Japanese technique.
Creative talent runs in the family for professional painter Shawn Wilson. As the niece of renowned artist Charles Banks Wilson and daughter and granddaughter of successful jazz horn players, it’s no revelation the Miami, Oklahoma, native took an early interest in the arts.
She recalls her uncle’s influence on her passion to paint as a young teen. “He had a wonderful studio above the Wilson paint store,” Wilson reminisces of her grandparents’ shop in Miami, Oklahoma. “He showed me all about stretching and preparing canvas, and he was always ready to answer my questions.”
After high school, Wilson moved to New York City to pursue a career in fine art. She found work with Time Magazine in the graphics department and had her first big break when the New Yorker purchased several of her pen-to-ink drawings. But she says what “really set her on fire” was discovering sumi-é, a Japanese ink brush technique that is at least 2,000 years old.
Wilson describes sumi-é as a subtle, minimalist art form — much like a martial art with a brush. The craft requires an ink stone, ink stick, a paintbrush and rice paper. While the ink stone holds a well for mixing, the ink stick is used to repetitively grind until a desired ink concentration is reached. Paintbrush bristles are thick at the base and gradually taper to a fine point, so once the paintbrush is loaded, the painter can achieve variations in tonality, stroke width and shading with the use of different pressure points.
“It is absolutely meditational,” Wilson says. “You have to paint like lighting because you’re painting with rice paper, which is so porous, it’s like painting on toilet paper.”
In the early 2000s, Wilson brought her love of sumi-é back to Tulsa. Her work is on display locally at the Joseph Gierek Gallery, but Wilson aspires to do more. “I hope to get a commission of some kind,” she says. “That would be my dream: a nice big commission.”