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Sumi-e Society Midwest







A Taste
of Japan



Suminagashi Banner

Beautiful writing deserves beautiful paper. One of the oldest and most elegant methods of decorating paper is

SUMINAGASHI ~ Japanese Marbling

. . .and you can do it yourself !

Marble-like designs are created by floating colored inks on water and transferring them to absorbent paper or fabric. Finished pieces can be framed or used in other crafts like book-binding.




  1. Japanese ink - available in black and red. Or Pelikan inks which come in a wide range of colors. Note: These inks are permanent. Be careful not to spill them on your clothes.
  2. Japanese brushes. One for each color.
  3. A pan such as a glass baking dish, or photographic tray, larger than your paper.
  4. Photo-Flo, a wetting agent made by Kodak. It is sold in camera stores.
  5. Medicine dropper. A Palette with wells to hold inks. A plastic egg carton can also be used.
  6. Newspaper.
  7. Paper. Absorbent papers such as Japanese rice paper and colored newsprint work best, but almost any paper can be used. Experiment!
Spread newspaper on the floor near your work table to provide a drying area. Fill the pan with water to about 1-1/2 inches deep. Put 1 tablespoon of ink in one of the wells of your palette and 1 tablespoon of water. Add 2 or 3 drops of Photo-Flo to the ink and to the water. Rinse your brushes in water until they are clean and damp. Skim the surface of the water with a strip of newspaper.

Kay adding ink to water.Dip one brush in the ink and one in the "colorless ink" (a mixture of water and wetting agent). Hold one brush in each hand. Touch the tip of the ink brush to the surface of the water. A puddle of ink will form. Touch the colorless brush to the center of the puddle. Repeat until the surface is covered with rings of ink. While holding the paper by opposite corners, lay it gently on the water.
Rice paper absorbs the pattern immediately and should be removed quickly. Wet rice paper is very delicate and has to be handled with care. Heavier papers can be left on the water a few seconds longer. Spread the wet, marbled paper on newspaper to dry.
When non-absorbant papers are used, the ink may run when the paper is lifted from the water. Rinse gently. The excess ink will wash off and the dyed pattern will remain.
Floating ink on water jpg If the ink sinks instead of spreading on the water surface, add another drop of wetting agent between prints, skim the water with a strip of newspaper to remove ink and wetting agent.


  1. When the pattern is complete, blow gently on the surface of the water. This will create a design with jagged edges.
  2. Make a ring pattern, then gently draw a toothpick through it in several places. This will swirl the ink into intricate designs. Again, experiment to create different effects.
  3. To keep part of the paper blank, overlap two sheets when you place them on the design. Experiment with different sizes and shapes of overlapped paper.
Marbled paper jpg.You can use as many colors as you wish in each design.

Happy Marbling!

Thanks to Kay Thomas shown in the photographs for her instructions on Suminagashi. Kay teaches Sumi-e and Suminagashi throughout the year at The Suburban Fine Art League and New Trier in the Chicago North Shore area.
If you are interested in attending the next Suminagashi Workshop or for Sumi-e Classes, call The Suburban Fine Art Center in Highland Park, IL at:1-847-432-1888 or New Trier at: 1-847-446-6600, for more information, they will gladly send you a brochure for upcoming classes and workshops.

Sources of supply:

    Diane Maurer
    P.O. Box 78
    Spring Mills, PA 16875
    Phone: 814-422-8651
    Mail-order source for inks, brushes and wetting agent. Write for price list.
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