What is Suminagashi?

I’ve had several requests lately for a list of supplies used to make suminagashi, so here is a little write-up! I know this doesn’t include actual instructions, but suminagashi is a very easy and accessible art form. And pretty cheap too!


Suminagashi, or “spilled ink,” is the art of traditional Japanese marbling. The effect is beautiful, but it is also a meditative practice to quiet and focus the mind. It is composed by allowing a basin of water to still, and then adding ink to the water. The ink can be traditional black calligraphy ink, or more modern colored ones, including acrylic. The pattern is composed by adding drops of ink within each other. As they expand, they create the traditional fractal look of mountains and rivers, or coastlines. The pattern can then by manipulated by blowing on it, using a brush, or even a hair to gently move it. It is said that a master of suminagashi has only a small amount of control over the outcome.

To do suminagashi at home:

Suminagashi can be done at home or in the classroom with a minimum of supplies! All you need is ink, trays, and paper.
For ink, we recommend Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink, which can be purchased online from Blick at http://www.dickblick.com. If you’d like to try a more traditional ink (only in black and red), purchase the Yasutomo “sumi ink,” which comes from Japan.
Trays can also be found on Blick’s website- we like the Richeson Heavy-Duty Art Tray, size 13″x”18″x1″. But any similar tray will work, as long as it’s not metal!
For paper, any printer paper will do.
Extra supplies-
Turpentine: If you are working with the sumi ink, or would like to try a different technique than the white India ink, purchase turpentine from Blick, your local art store, or any hardware store. Use a brush to apply the turpentine and create white space between your colors.
Brushes: Any small/medium, pointed brush will do, but I find that calligraphy brushes are particularly nice. If you are using Bombay India Ink, you do not need a brush.
Other inks: There are a wide variety of inks and paints that may or may not work, including marbling kits from your local art store! If you love doing sumi, experiment with different inks and colors and see what works for you.
Paper: The same goes for paper. Some paper will work well, others will be totally nonabsorbent or will tear too easily. Try different types of paper! We particularly like watercolor paper and Legion or Arches printmaking paper, but these can be significantly more expensive than regular printer paper.
Books: For the truly curious, I highly recommend Anne Chambers’ book “Suminagashi: The Japanese Art of Marbling: A Practical Guide.” She also has a book on Western marbling techniques.
Enjoy your suminagashi journey!

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