MAU Art & Design Glossary




Ebake is a brush used in Japanese paintings (nihonga) to ground or paint large areas in lines of a uniform width with sumi ink or nihonga paint.

The width of commonly used ebake is between 1 sun (approx. 3cm) and 5 sun (approx. 15cm) available in 5 bu (approx. 1.5cm) or 1 sun increments, but some brushes are as wide as 7 sun or 8 sun. Generally, they are made of either quality sheep/goat hair with good elasticity (white) or harder summer horse hair (brown). The goat hair comes from southern China and the horse hair used is the strong long hair from the tail and the weaker strands of hair from the body of a horse. Lacquer finish is applied on the handle and the part holding the brush tips in place. The prerequisite of a good brush is that when loaded with plenty of water, the brush tip does not split, allowing the paint to be applied smoothly and evenly. Some skilled brush makers are experts at not only selecting the best hair but also adjusting the brush tip length and quantity to make brushes with distinct characteristics.

Ebake brushes are usually used in laying down a wash over a relatively wide area, such as when applying a base coat, but can also be used for drawing. They are used widely in the works of Kyoto’s Maruyama-Shijo school painters who flourished during the late Edo period to produce unique brush expressions. For example, brush stokes that are normally flat and monotonous can be transformed into various expressions by exploiting the brush’s characteristics and loading ink on one side of the brush only or on the two edges.

Various types of brushes are used in Japanese paintings depending on their use. Besides the ebake, there is also the wetting brush (mizubake) and the karabake brush. These must always be used only for their respective purpose because once used, they will each have different substances and paint residue on them. For example, the hydrated alum in the sizing liquid repels paint so using the same brush would hinder the spread of the paint.
After use, wash the brush thoroughly in cold or lukewarm water, drain excess moisture, and hang to dry in a well-ventilated location not exposed to direct sunlight.
Ebake brushes can be purchased at art supply stores that handle Japanese art supplies as well as at general art supply stores.