The Subtle Art of Suminagashi

With most of my art supplies still traveling back home, I tried something simple and satisfying this weekend: suminagashi. It is a Japanese-style marbling done in black ink. It’s subtle and beautiful. And I’ll be teaching it March 22 at Arizona Art Supply in Phoenix. (Details and registration)

sumi4Using black sumi ink and brushes, suminagashi is created with patience and care. It’s a meditative art work: slow, careful and fun.

What you’ll need:

  • A non-reactive pan. I used an enamel palette (formerly a meat tray)
  • Tap water, not distilled.
  • Black sumi ink in a small cup
  • Olive oil in a small cup
  • paint brushes, size 4 to 6
  • Watercolor paper, 90-lb weight

Fill the pan with about an inch of water.  Dip the smaller (size 4 ) brush in olive oil and hold it in your non-dominant hand. Dip the larger brush (size 6) into the black sumi ink and hold it in your dominant hand.

Sumi1Touch the tip of the brush vertically into the water. A large black circle will spread across the surface of the water, turning gray as it disperses.

sumi2Touch the tip of the oil-brush into the center of the circle. The surface tension of the oil will push the ink away.

Repeat the process at least five times in the same circle. Ink brush, oil brush. You will have a series of concentric circles that will move on the surface of the water.

Gently blow on or fan the surface of the water to create movement.

sumi3When the ink pattern is interesting, place a sheet of watercolor paper on the water by “rolling” it across the surface. Let the paper drop completely onto the surface of the water. Immediately pick it up by one edge, and place it, wet side up, on a sheet of newspaper to dry.

sumi5Once the papers are dry, use Tombow or Koi dye markers (not alcohol markers) to add subtle color to the page.

You can use the dried sheets as journal pages, backgrounds for photos or photo mats. The first print will be more dramatic. If you are going to write on the pages and want to have the patterns be lighter, take two or three impressions before adding more ink.

Join me at Arizona Art Supply in Phoenix to take the class on Saturday, March 22, 2014.

—Quinn McDonald is preparing looseleaf pages. She’s on the road to Texas.

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8 thoughts on “The Subtle Art of Suminagashi

  1. Spring break is about to happen here. That means lots of free time with the kids. This looks like an excellent project for that week. If we do it in the beginning of the week we will have time to do another project with the finished papers. Thanks, Quinn
    Texas. I’m not fond of Texas. Might have been the place, the people or the circumstances. I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

    • Texas is a great business trip for me. Easy in, easy out. The hotel is connected to the complex where I’m teaching business writing. Great company. So, I fly in today, teach tomorrow and Wednesday, grab a bite to eat in the Mall, walk back to the hotel and get the shuttle to the airport. Sadly, I experience nothing of culture, just a business trip. Which is OK, too.

    • The set up is almost no time at all. The only thing you have to do is keep changing the water after every few times. It’s the biggest result for the least amount of work of the projects I do.

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