The Basic Knowledge of Inkstone Presented by the PIGMENT Chief Iwaizumi

This time, our popular ARTICLE series of “The basic knowledge of inkstone“ would like to focus on “inkstone” itself.

What kind of shape do you think of when you hear the word “inkstone”?

For many people, black square stone with a dent in front might come to mind.

In PIGMENT TOKYO, we have a wide variety of inkstones with different colors, shapes and sizes. In this article, the chief Iwaizumi talks about the basic knowledges about inkstones.

―PIGMENT has different kinds of inkstones from the black ones, graphite, green and the white ones and they also have different shapes. About how many types could you categorize them?

First, there are two great inkstones called Tankeiken (Duanxiyan) and Kyujuken (Shezhouyan). Adding to these two inkstones, the four great inkstones include Chodeiken (Chengniyan) and Togaryokuseki or Shokakoryokuseki.

―Well, there are several ways of categorizing.

Yes. There are various theories about the four great inkstones, but because of the limitation in the amount of mining, Tankeiken (Duanxiyan) and Kyujuken (Shezhouyan) are the most popular ones. Chodeiken (Chengniyan) and Togaryokuseki, on the other hand, are not so common as the mining area was unknown for so long and the information about its production process is less available today. Also, in terms of the quality, Tankeiken (Duanxiyan) and Kyujuken (Shezhouyan) generally have better quality, which is the reason why PIGMENT recommends the two great inkstones.

I see. Could you tell us the characteristics of each stone?

Talking in an abstract way, Tankeiken is compared as feminine and Kyujuken is compared as muscular. That is because of the different texture when you touch each stone; Tankeiken is very smooth while Kyujuken is very rough.

Where are these inkstones mined?

The inkstones sold at PIGMENT are all mined in China, and they are usually named after to the place of production. For example, Tankeiken is named after the old name for Xi River, which is located around Zhaoqing City of Guangdong Province in China. Kyujuken refers to the name of the province that once existed in China. Therefore, the name of the inkstones is mostly derived from the place where it was mined.

I see.

However, because of the depletion of resources, it gets harder to mine these stones. One day when I visited a store in China, there is an inkstone that has as fine quality as Kyujuken. I asked the craftsman about its name and he said, “It is called a “schoolyard” stone because it was mined in a schoolyard.” This story literally shows how the name refers to the production place.

Are there any difference in each Tankeiken and Kyujuken?

Yes. Just like there are many parts in beef and pork such as loin and sirloin, each stone has various parts. Take this Shirotanken (white inkstone), for example, what do you what this is made of?

I have no idea. Is this some special stone that is suitable for the inkstones?

From a viewpoint of a composition, this is made from marble. Therefore, the marbles in Carrara in Toscana can also be inkstones. In this case, the name is probably going to be “Carrara Inkstone”. It just we do not know it yet, but there might be similar stones as Tankeiken and Kyujuken in France.


I heard that there are many areas producing inkstones in Japan, too. Where is the popular place?

There are Nachiguro from Wakayama prefecture; Ogatsu inkstone from Sendai prefecture, Akama from Yamaguchi prefecture and the most famous one is Amatada inkstone from Yamanshi prefecture.

I see that there are various inkstones in Japan, but why are there no Japanese inkstones in PIGMENT?

There are many high quality inkstones in Japan. However, I believe that there is nothing like Chinese inkstones that can make the best of sumi color. Of course, there are many great ones including Amatada inkstone, but I personally recommend the ones from China.

Are there any reasons?

There are various areas from north to south in China. The biggest strength of Chinese inkstones is its vast area and wide range of the quality in stones. China is the best in the technique of mining inkstone as well. I will talk about these attractions of Chinese inkstones in the next article.

―All right. Lastly, PIGMENT has variety of inkstones and sumi inks but are there any good compatibility with ink and stones?

There are various kinds of inkstones and sumi inksticks, so we cannot generalize them. Roughly speaking, it is said that Tankeiken is compatible with lamp soot ink and Kyujuken is compatible with burnt pine ink. However, these also differ depending on the condition of the inkstone and the quality of the sumi inksticks.

I see. Is there anything we should be careful about?

There is a certain principal in ideal hardness of sumi inksticks and inkstones. First, the hardest one should be a grindstone. In order to polish, inkstones must be softer than the grindstone. Next, sumi inkstick should be softer than the inkstones because the surface of the inkstone can be damaged if inkstick is harder.

Does each inkstick also have different hardness?

Generally, Chinese inksticks are harder and Japanese inksticks are softer. Among them, Chinese burnt pine ink is the hardest, followed by the Chinese lamp soot ink. Following them are the Japanese burnt pine ink and Japanese lamp soot ink. Therefore, in terms of keeping the inkstones longer, if you rub the old burnt pine ink onto the soft inkstone, it might be damaged. This rule might be helpful when you want to buy sumi ink.

There are many deep stories behind sumi and inkstones.

Indeed. In PIGMENT, you can freely try different brushes and sumi inkstick.

Furthermore, in “Advanced Japanese Painting Technique” workshop, you will be able to experience various kinds of inkstones and sumi inksticks. For anyone who wants to buy a sumi inkstick, I can show them around after the workshop. Please feel free to join the workshop if you are interested in.


大矢 享

Art Materials Expert at PIGMENT TOKYO


Born in 1989 in Tokyo. Master of Fine Art and Design at Nihon University College of Art. While working at PIGMENT TOKYO as an Art Materials Expert, he also continues his career as a visual artist.

Born in 1989 in Tokyo. Master of Fine Art and Design at Nihon University College of Art. While working at PIGMENT TOKYO as an Art Materials Expert, he also continues his career as a visual artist.