I recently went to a suminagashi workshop at Upstairs at Talas with Christin Ripley. Although I’ve done traditional marbling before, I had never tried this ancient Japanese technique of ‘floating ink’. I had also never been to a class at Talas and was interested to see their new classroom facilities.
Suminagashi is believed to be the oldest form of marbling, originating in China over 2000 years ago and practiced in Japan as far back as the 12th century. Ink is dropped onto the surface of a shallow tray of water. The ink spreads due to the surface tension of the water. The ink is then interspersed with surfactant (in our case dish soap mixed with water) which creates a ring of negative color. The process continues – ink, surfactant, ink, surfactant, on and on until a series of concentric rings has been created.
The rings are then manipulated by moving the air with a fan, blowing onto the water, or spraying the surface with surfactant. There are many other ways of manipulating the pattern. Plain paper is then carefully lowered onto the surface, lifted off and then hung to dry.
First off, the classroom facilities at Talas are fantastic with lots of light and space. Christin was a fun and knowledgeable teacher with lots of new ideas for us to try when manipulating our patterns. We all had a variety of papers to try ranging from newsprint for practicing, to delicate sheets of handmade Japanese paper. We used suminagashi inks by Boko Undo. Christin gave us a short demonstration and then we were off. It was relatively easy to get good immediate results and three hours later I had about 30 sheets of varied colors and patterns marbled on a variety of papers.
Once all the papers are completely dry, they can be ironed on the back of the paper with a dry iron to straighten out all of the wrinkles.
Some were better than others but all of them are usable in some way and I’m looking forward to using them when making handmade notebooks.
Oh and here are a two examples from the Japanese suminagashi master Mr Tadao Fukuda that Cristin brought along to inspire us: