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.

  • J. de Vries

    Where, in the Netherlands, can I buy these inks?

    • Suminagashi

      I would check any local art supply stores, an art school or an online source like amazon.co.uk and amazon.de. They will ship for free to the Netherlands. Good luck!

  • Georgia Martin

    Hello. Is it possible to create the Suminagashi technique on ceramics?

    Thank you!

    • Suminagashi

      Yes definitely! Just prepare your ceramics so that the paint will adhere properly and then finish with a clear glaze. Send a picture and we will post it…Best of luck!

  • Sharon Lones

    How interesting! Thank you.

  • Friederike Wienhoefer

    How and with what kind of material can I prepare the ceramic so that the paint will adhere?

    • Suminagashi

      If you are starting with unglazed ceramic materials, I would suggest the following steps. 1) Give the unglazed ceramic surface an ‘undercoat’ of a clear, white, or other light colored glaze and let it dry completely. The consistent background color will help the Suminagashi pattern stand out. Then 2) add the Suminagashi marbling to the surface of the undercoating and let it completely dry again. 3) Next I would add a final coat of the ‘gloss’ glaze to seal in the Suminagashi pattern and to create a shiny finished piece after it has been fired in the kiln. During this process the Suminagashi paint should adhere to the ceramic surface as it would to rice paper. You may want to experiment with different pigment densities, so as to achieve more vibrant colors on your finished piece after it has been fired in the kiln. Have fun experimenting and best of luck! Send us a picture of your finished piece to info [at] suminagashi.com. We would love to see it.

  • Friederike Wienhoefer

    Thank you for your instructive answer. But what’s about if I am starting with a glazed tile?

    • Suminagashi

      With Suminagashi inks, they inherently ‘dye’ the paper or surface of the material you are working with. Papers, fabrics, and other porous materials therefore work very well to absorb their dye. However if the surface is non-porous, like a glazed tile, the Suminagashi inks will be unable to ‘dye’ the material unfortunately. Instead, you could try to use standard oil or latex based paints in the Ebru or Turkish style of marbling and see how they work. We have information on Turkish marbling on our site as well as a DIY workshop for pointers. Good luck!

  • Dayna Dyle

    I am planning a class project for auction and want each child to have a square of watercolor paper that I will then attach to a canvas with gel medium. Will that work with this technique?

  • jakaranda

    Hello, thanks for your explains ! But What is the proportion of oxgall for the India ink?

    So thanks for an answer.

  • Rebecca Friedner

    I was wondering if you have heard of natural dyes, such as indigo, being successful fabrics in suminagashi?