Paper marbling is the practice of floating ink on the surface of water, making a design, and creating a print by laying a piece of paper on the water. I decided to take a workshop last month at the Japanese Cultural Center in Chicago to learn the process of Suminagashi.
Suminagashi is the oldest documented form of paper marbling. It is quite different in appearance from the marbling you may be familiar with. Sumi means "ink" and nagashi means "to float". Pretty straightforward.
Here is the condensed version of how I made these: I used only black, yellow and red inks (red looks pink and black looks gray when spread out on the water) and where you see white paper I used a liquid dispersant. It acts like a repellent and pushes all of the inks away from it.
First you put water in a shallow tray and wait until the surface of the water is completely still. A pointed brush is dipped into ink and just the tip is gently touched to the surface of the water (and I mean gently!). A ring of ink quickly spreads out over the entire surface of the water. It is hard to see at this point because it is so thinned out. With each new drop, the inks create concentric circles that get darker, closer together and thinner. You keep going, making dozens maybe hundreds of circles. The process makes you focused and I found it very calming.
So when do all the concentric circles get distorted and make these crazy shapes? You have to give up total control in this process. It is very delicate. Wind currents in the room move the water as you work. And if you want to add some movement—the jagged lines you see—you just blow lightly on the surface of the water. You do have to decide when the piece is ready to print, and quickly lay paper down to capture that moment in time, because the following second, that image has changed. You can't wait too long or you will miss it!
Each print is unique. Yes, you can never duplicate your past successes, but the next print you make will be new, exciting and different. It's waiting for you. You just have to make it!