What is Suminagashi ?

Suminagashi - literally "spilled ink" - is a process where a decorative pattern is created by floating ink on the surface of water and is transferred to a sheet of paper. Each marbled design is unrepeatable, and extraordinarily beautiful.

Centuries before the technique of marbling paper was mastered in the West, Japanese craftsmen were practicing the closely related art of suminagashi. The ancient traditions of suminagashi have been preserved over many hundreds of years, since the days when such paper was reserved for the Imperial Household and the high nobility.

Traditional suminagashi differs from Western marbling in two basic ways. One is that sumi, or Chinese ink made from pine soot, is the core material, though not necessarily the only ink used. The other is that for suminagashi no additive is used to thicken the water, while for Western marbling the water is thickened to ensure that the pigments do not sink, but remain on the surface. Variations to this process are practiced today. Artist, Yoju, practices both the traditional suminagashi technique and the western marbling methods to create her basic image forms. Color and texture is generally added using paints and other materials to complete the final work.

The flowing, liquid patterns of suminagashi, soft, quiet, and elegantly decorative, have a special design potential, While suminagashi shares with other printing techniques the concept of transferring colors from a surface to paper or cloth - the colors floating on top of the water's surface corresponding to colors resting on wood blocks, litho stones or metal plates - it also differs intrinsically from other printing techniques. Since the very nature of water is to be in constant flux, impossible to fix or hold, so the inks on the surface swirl with the water and what is transferred to paper is but a momentary pattern captured from the movement. The same pattern never appears twice. The uniqueness of each print sets suminagashi apart from other 'hard' printing processes where the printing plate can be used repeatedly to produce quantities of identical images. Indeed, the beauty of suminagashi lies in the ever different, ever new patterns produced. Suminigashi artists, such as Yoju, are able to control and create patterns using practiced techniques of application and distribution of the inks.

MATERIALS — can be obtained from Daniel Smith, PO Box 84268,Seattle, WA. 98124

    1. Bath tray (plastic or glass — do not use metal),
    2. brushes, stylus, straws and fans
    3. Paper — Masa, rice paper, Japanese handmade paper, bond paper, watercolor paper
    4. Inks and paint — sumi ink, acrylic, gouache, fabric dyes, printer’s ink, etc.
    5. Dispersants — matsuyani, marbling size (Carragheenan*), ox-gall**, turpentine

REFERENCES — "Suminagashi." By Anne Chambers, Thames & Hudson pub., N.Y., N.Y., 1986

"Suminagashi: Ink Floating," in Fine Print, Vol. 7, No. 3, San Francisco, July 1981

"Suminagashi: The Japanese Way with Marbled Paper," in Coranto, Vol. 8, 1972

*Carragheenan — a.k.a Irish Moss (n) An edible North Atlantic seaweed (Chondrus crispus) that yields a mucilaginous substance used medicinally and in preparing jellies. Also called carrageen.

**ox-gall — a wetting agent made from the gall bladders of oxen. Used to decrease surface tension and increase paint flow.


For more information on the suminagashi technique please see the attached article from "International Artist" which features Yoju demonstrating the method.

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