Suminagashi (墨流し) is the ancient Japanese technique of decorating paper with inks. It is believed to be the oldest form of marbling, originating in China over 2,000 years ago and practiced in Japan by Shinto priests as early as the 12th century. Suminagashi (sue-me-NAH-gah-she), which means literally “ink-floating” involves doing just that.
Japanese Sumi-e inks were originally used, dropped carefully to float on a still water surface and then blown across to form delicate swirls, after which the ink was picked up by laying a sheet of white rice paper atop the ink covered water.
The practice of Suminagashi remains much the same today, although now artists also use acrylic paints that flow and spread over a liquid water surface. Combining the knowledge of fluid mechanics with artistic talent, the artist controls the floating pigments through the viscosity and surface tension of the water to create images suggestive of mountain ranges, landscapes, clouds and animals before printing them on a sheet of paper. The europeans had their own version of marbling also called Ebru or Turkish-style marbling.
Suminagashi complements Japan’s other great arts: Shodo (calligraphy), where a Sumi ink-dipped brush is used artistically to create Chinese kanji and Japanese kana characters, and Ikebana (flower arranging), where a single flower stem can be beautifully revealed in an artistic arrangement, all of which remain a traditional part of Japan’s culture. Also emerging as a popular environmentally friendly treatment for wood siding, the Japanese art of Shou Sugi Ban or charred wood, results in a ‘green’ method to protect wood siding from fire, insects and rot without the use of chemicals.