Pacific Beach resident learns Sumi-e painting, wins San Diego County Fair awards

PB resident Zabeth Cornelius-Knudsen with her two paintings that won first-place awards at the 2023 San Diego County Fair.
Pacific Beach resident Zabeth Cornelius-Knudsen with her two paintings that won first-place awards at the 2023 San Diego County Fair.
(Courtesy of Zabeth Cornelius-Knudsen)

If Zabeth Cornelius-Knudsen could describe art as anything, she would equate it to a meditative practice.

The Pacific Beach resident, yoga therapist and artists dove into her creative side during the COVID lock down and since then has not looked back.

“I really wanted to nourish the artistic part of my soul that has been lying dormant for many years,” Cornelius-Knudsen said. “During COVID, I came across Sumi-e art. I learned it is very meditative. I have always been attracted to Japanese and Chinese art because of its simplicity and deeper messages.”

Sumi-e painting is a traditional Southeast Asian art form that incorporates the use of black ink and watercolors and is done on rice paper. Long brushes are used to create free flowing imagery.

When Cornelius-Knudsen learned about Sumi-e, she enrolled in an online art course through San Diego Community College for those 55 and older. The teacher, Tatsuko Sandin, pulls in tradition and historical lessons and helps students practice the challenging art form.

“Through this form of art, I had to overcome my fear of making an artistic mistake because you cannot erase or get rid of things once painted,” Cornelius-Knudsen said.

The owl painting by Zabeth Cornelius-Knudsen.
(Courtesy of Zabeth Cornelius-Knudsen)

This summer, her art was featured alongside her classmates’ works at the San Diego County Fair. Their art was in the student showcase ink on paper category. She won two first-place awards.

Outside of their virtual classroom, they have had the chance to meet in person. Coming together one day at a local library, Sandin encouraged her students to learn how to prepare an art piece and ultimately submit it to the fair.

For Cornelius-Knudsen, the community formed through the class has been a factor in her continuing to pursue the art form. Albeit primarily virtual, the individuals learning to paint Sumi-e have formed a group and contributing to the fair has been a highlight on this journey.

“I decided to come up with several art pieces I liked, and I met a lot of other artists, it was very exciting,” she said.

For Cornelius-Knudsen, practicing traditional Sumi-e goes beyond letting her creative juices flow. Learning to let go of the idea that a mistake warrants a brand-new art piece has been a hurdle that she has overcome, and a rewarding one at that.

“You cannot erase anything, and you have to either start over or accept your mistake and integrate it into your work. Painting with Sumi ink is teaching me to take chances and be more comfortable with mistakes,” Cornelius-Knudsen said.

Zabeth Cornelius-Knudsen was inspired by plant she saw during a recent trip to the desert when creating this painting.
(Courtesy of Zabeth Cornelius-Knudsen)

The 2023 San Diego County Fair is the first one Cornelius-Knudsen has been to, and she was thrilled to share two pieces, one of an owl, the other of a plant.

“One is of an owl sitting on a branch with an orange moon. The branch and orange moon are from a picture I took in La Jolla,” she said.

The other painting is of a plant, mimicked from a picture Cornelius-Knudsen took on a recent trip to the desert. It also had Japanese characters on it.

“The Japanese character is happiness because the trip was a birthday gift from friends that filled me with joy,” Cornelius-Knudsen said.

“Entering the fair and seeing my art on display brought me joy and a little pride. I hope I will never feel too old to explore, learn new things and put myself ‘out there,’” Cornelius-Knudsen said.