Suminagashi in Color and Gold

Suminagashi is a Japanese technique that is deceptively simple and wonderfully intricate, depending how much time you want to spend developing it.

Here is a journal page I made by using a suminagashi technique, then adding color and a quote written over the finished piece.


The quote is from Harvey MacKay: “Take risks–you are a lot better off being scared than being bored.”

Here is a variation in gold:


To read the complete step-by-steps, check out my post on the Niji site.

Suminagashi is done in one or two colors. You load a bamboo brush with black and another one with another color. Alternating brushes, you touch the tip to the surface of the water. But I wanted to use just black. The trick (which I struggled months to figure out)  is that the other brush is loaded with vegetable oil.


Several sites I researched suggested soap, which won’t work at all. Soap breaks the surface tension of the water and everything sinks. Vegetable oil does the trick.

Alternate ink and oil. The red in the bottom (of the photograph above) is some watercolor I added to show depth–that the sumi ink is floating on the surface.


You need the oil to push the ink back. Without the oil, you still get great patterns, but they are not as intricate. The pattern above was made without oil. You can see the gold paint that I floated very carefully on the surface. It likes to sink. You can’t use it to do suminagashi.


But you can paint gold watercolor on a piece of paper, allow it to dry, then suminagashi over it. I love the elegant effect. You can use it for journal backgrounds or cut out pieces of the ink and use it to create cards.

For step-by-step instructions,  visit  my suminagashi post on the Niji site.

Quinn McDonald loves experimenting; she is a member of the Yasutomo design team. In another life, she wears a suit and teaches business communications.


8 thoughts on “Suminagashi in Color and Gold

  1. Pingback: Postcard Play | QuinnCreative

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  3. Quinn, thank you so much for this lesson! I loved the gelli printing class and finally getting to meet you after enjoying your wonderful blog for so long. What a wealth of creative talent!

  4. Sounds interesting and less hassle that marbling. Especially if you would use seaweed gelatin to float the colours. That’s what the top-notch pros apparently use, so I’ve been told. Yet another thing to try sometime. Not the seaweed but suminagashi. 🙂 Especially since in one interview a marble artist told that the seaweed gelatin goes off if there’s a thunderstorm. Somehow the low air pressure changes the composition of the gelatin and it ceases to float the colours. Weir or what!

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