Activity: Expressive Black and White Fish from Draw, Paint, Sparkle

Sign up here to receive more sample activities from Draw, Paint, Sparkle!

In Draw, Paint, Sparkle, elementary art teacher Patty Palmer shares each creative explorations and projects, offers tips on using the best art materials (that won’t break the bank), shares art-making techniques that add variety and ease to the projects, and provides insights on engaging kids in the process. Here are instructions and materials needed to a fun project creating "Expressive black-and-white fish."

I often encouraged my students to outline their artwork with black lines. Most often, the black lines are from an oil pastel, but it can also be black tempera paint and a small brush. One time, a fellow art teacher recommended I try a sumi-e brush and ink. I was intrigued but never placed these two items on my art supply list until now. Oh, what fun I missed.

Painting with black ink is an experience in itself, but painting with a sumi-e brush amps up the expressive quality of this art medium. There are very specific ways in which to paint with a sumi-e brush, but instead of focusing on the proper use, I decided to approach the medium with a sense of curiosity.

what you’ll need

  • 1 large sheet of 18" x 24" white drawing paper
  • Sumi-e brush
  • Sumi-e black ink


what you’ll learn

  • How to paint using texture as a guide
  • How to draw from observation




To start, use large 18" x 24" sheets of white paper. One little guy used a 12" x 18" sheet because the large sheet was just too big. Place a small amount of ink (1 tablespoon) in a small flat bowl. Add a small amount of water. Make sure the dish is stable and won’t tip over or you’ll have a mess. Offer each child a sumi-e brush.


To get used to the brush and see what lines the brush produces, dip the brush into the ink and allow the ink to soak in. Place the brush at the top of the left hand side of the paper and draw a line down to the bottom of the paper. Notice the thickness of the line. Without adding anymore ink, notice the shape of the brush. Is it straight? Curved? Try placing the brush on the paper to see what markings result. Draw another line, this time pressing harder. Is the line thick or thin? Is the ink dark or light? Continue to experiment this way to get a feel for the brush. Because the brush is so soft children will be tempted to treat it like an all-purpose brush. The intention is to work with the brush and create lines given what state the brush is in.

After experimenting with the brush, dip it into ink again. With the variety of detailing found in fish, the sumi-e brush techniques can be very effective. Set out a few books to offer ideas for different types of fish. Study the shape of various bodies and fins, noting the contour or outside shape, the details of the fins and tails, and any patterns inside the body.

With the brush dipped in ink, draw the body first and then add a tail. Next draw the fins. Experiment painting patterns with various textures: dark and light, thick and thin, curly and straight. The results are strong and expressive. The best part about this project is that it is based on the process and less on the final outcome.