Workshop for Kids

It is always a fun and easy project to introduce kids to Suminagashi. All you need is ink, paper, a few paintbrushes, a dispersing agent to make the ink float, and a shallow tray or pan filled with water. Most of these items can be found at any good art-supply store. Here’s a great video below from Blick Art materials and their outline (PDF) of the kids lesson plan.

Types of ink:

Inks that produce the most vibrant images are opaque drawing inks, and traditional sumi inks used for Japanese calligraphy. Transparent inks produce a very faint, subtle image. Createx liquid pigments also work well.

Types of paper:

Use a very absorbent paper, such as paper intended for block-printing, handmade paper, or any “rice papers.” A good choice for a beginner who wants to work on a small scale is a pad of practice paper for Japanese ink-painting.


The bamboo-handled brushes used for traditional Chinese and Japanese painting work very well for suminagashi and are very inexpensive. Sizes zero or one are good choices. You will want one brush for each color of ink you plan to use, plus one extra for the dispersant.

Dispersing agent:

The Japanese traditionally used a pine-resin dispersant. These days the easiest thing to use is Kodak Photo-Flo, which can be found at any store that carries darkroom supplies.

Getting started:

Prepare your work area. Put newspaper down under your tray, because this can sometimes get wet. Have a supply of newspaper strips the width of your tray on hand for skimming excess ink off the surface of the water between sheets.

Before you get started you need to prepare the inks you’re going to use. Put about a half-teaspoon the well of a small plastic watercolor palette. Mix up a solution of about one drop of Photo-Flo to one teaspoon of water in one of these. This solution will be the “invisible ink”.

Fill your tray with an inch or two of water and start testing your inks to see how well they float. To do this, dip a brush in the ink, then touch the brush very lightly to the surface of the water. When you touch the tip of the brush to the water, the color should expand in a big circle, much the same way a drop of oil will expand on the surface of water. If your ink doesn’t disperse, or if it sinks instead, add a tiny amount of Photo-Flo and try again. When you have prepared all of your inks, you are ready to begin.

Hold a brush with ink in one hand, and a brush dipped in the Photo-Flo solution in the other. Touch the brush with the ink to the water, then touch the brush with the Photo-Flo to the center of the circle of ink. The Photo-Flo solution will expand, turning your colored circle into a ring. Alternate the ink and the Photo-Flo to create concentric circles. Experiment! Start circles on other parts of the water, or alternate two or more different colors of ink, with or without Photo-Flo in between them. Try gently blowing on or fanning the surface to see what kinds of patterns are created. Remember that you don’t have to keep every image, so don’t be afraid to try different things.

When you feel happy with the image on the water, take a sheet of paper and gently lay it across the surface of the water. Start with the corner closest to you and proceed to the corner diagonally opposite. Carefully lift the paper off the water and onto a flat surface such as a cookie sheet or a cutting board. If your ink appears to be running, rinse the paper off by pouring a slow stream of water over it. These papers are very fragile when wet, so be careful when handling them. Lay the sheet on a flat, absorbent surface to dry, skim the excess ink off the water in your tray, and you are ready to start the next sheet!

These beautiful sheets of marbled paper can be used for all sorts of paper crafts, including note cards and simple bookbinding, or, if you have a very beautiful sheet that you just can’t bear to cut up, frame it and hang it on the wall all by itself.