I’ve been trying my hand at Japanese marbling, aka suminagashi. It is a lot more accessible than Turkish marbling (ebru) which requires a lot more preparation and many more ingredients. Suminagashi really needs only the water bath, ink and a dispersant. But not any old ink and dispersant will work. And as I discovered, the type of paper you use has a huge effect on the results.
I first learned about suminagashi while taking a futurelearn course on Japanese Paper (a course I highly recommend). The course linked me through to a youtube video, and so for my first attempt I followed the instructions in this video. The first time I followed the instructions in this video:
I don’t remember which ink I used (probably the magic color – I’ll come back to this) and some dish washing liquid. The results were a little muddy – the white areas were a bit too grey, and the darker areas were also a light grey, so there wasn’t much definition. I printed onto a 110 gsm cartridge paper.
My second session with suminagashi was far more productive. I found a practical guide by Anne Chambers (a master at ebru Turkish marbling who learned suminagashi in Japan)
In it she has a section called ‘Suminagashi for the Western World’. Her instructions called for turpentine as the dispersant. I didn’t have any. But earlier in the book she desribes the work of Takaji Kuroda who uses ‘skin tonic’ in his marbling. I had some micellar water, so I tried that and it worked a treat!
As a dispersant though, the ink dispersed better than the micellar water, which contracted once dabbed into the water. It produced good clear results, but I wondered about what else might work.
I also had to experiment with inks. I used a sumi ink stick I got from Daiso used for calligraphy which did not work at all! When I pulled the paper out of the bath it just looked like I’d wet it. There was no ink to be seen. I didn’t have any black indian ink, but I did have some colour windsor and newton inks. But they dispersed so fast there was no way of getting the colour to form those lovely rings. In the end, it was Speedry Magic Color liquid acrylic, black, that produced the best results with the micellar water.
But the biggest discovery of that second session was about the paper. I had a go with a number of different papers, and largely the results were poor. Until I tried Japanese Rice Paper (sumi-e paper from Gordon Harris). The moment I dropped the paper onto the design, and saw the design come through the paper, before even lifting the paper back out of the bath, I was blown away by the difference!
(I think the lines – two on the left of the left image, and on at the top on the right image – are from how I laid the paper into the bath, so I’m working on my technique to avoid that)
Today, my third session making suminagashi paper, I tried out some more options.
The windsor and newton black ink worked better than the colours. It produced a very fine, somewhat faint print. The magic color in blue didn’t work well. It didn’t hold its shape on the water very well. The turpentine was disastrous!
I tried out Global colours high flow acrylic indigo. Like the magic color blue, I didn’t hold its shape well, so I added some magic color black with a separate brush. The combination worked adequately. But still my favourite was the magic color black with micellar water.
Until I tried to add some Global colours yellow mid. I thought I was just adding some colour like in the indigo above. But it turns out the yellow works as an excellent dispersant.
The results are still drying, so I’ll have to post photos later!
What I am enjoying is the influence of ambient air movement on the surface of the water. The design makes itself to a degree. There is such a huge element of chance! But there are also a lot of opportunities to experiment (aside from the different ingredients). From the way you add the ink and dispersant – thick or thin rings of each, where you place it in the bath, and how you encourage movement in the water – with a stylus or by blowing gently on the water.
The plan is to combine suminagashi with letterpress printing. watch this space.