A technique that originated in Japan more than 800 years ago, suminagashi is the process of marbling plain paper to transform it into something vibrant and colorful. According to author Diane Maurer-Mathison, of Spring Mills, Pennsylvania, this art form isn't as complicated as it might seem. In fact, all it requires are a few basic steps and the right equipment.
- Marbling tray, plastic kitty-litter pan, or photo tray
- Small paintbrushes
- Surfactant solution, such as Photo-Flo (see sources)
- Boku Undo marbling dye (see sources)
- Watercolor mixing tray
- Absorbent paper, such as rice, block-printing, or charcoal papers
Prepare the dyes you've chosen by mixing 1 teaspoon of the dye, 1 drop of surfactant solution, and 1 teaspoon of water in the watercolor mixing tray. In one of the tray's wells, mix 1 teaspoon of water and 1 drop of surfactant solution. Mix each one, using a different brush for each color and for the water and surfactant solution.
Fill the marbling tray with 2 inches of water. Skim the surface with a strip of newspaper to remove any dust. Using the brush with which one color was mixed, allow the brush to soak up dye, and touch the brush to the surface of the water. Next, touch the brush with surfactant solution in the middle of the color you've just applied to the water-filled tray. Keep alternating between colors and surfactant solutions until you've formed a number of concentric rings of color. Remember that the more rings you create, the more visually appealing your suminagashi paper will be.
To pattern the colors, you can swirl them using a single strand of hair or a cat whisker, or simply blow gently on them. Slowly lay a sheet of absorbent paper onto the surface of the water, lift off the paper, and lay it out to dry. Skim any excess color off the top of the water using the newspaper.