You Don’t Have to
Be Able to Say It
to Make It:
The Ancient Art of
Japanese Marbeling

Suminagashi, Japanese floating ink prints. Liturgy of life.

I know it sounds like some sort of sushi and you could probably win a game of Balderdash by saying it was, but Suminagashi is actually a Japanese art that involves making swirly beautiful prints by floating ink on water.

This past weekend Michael and I escaped on a retreat at Laity Lodge . I’m still working on a summary of our weekend but I thought I’d share one of the projects I got to do there  in case you were wanting a new activity for the weekend.

So one of the many amazing things that Laity Lodge does is host an artist in residence during each retreat. We were fortunate to spend our weekend with the gifted painter Debbie Taylor, (check out some of her beautiful work here).

Suminagashi, Japanese floating ink prints. Liturgy of life.


I had actually seen this in a recent addition of Martha Stewart. Now Martha is usually a little over my head. Love her, but this year I canceled my subscription in exchange for Country Living.  But this project looked like something even I could actually do, I mean it is basically just dropping ink onto water, so I was excited when Debbie said that she had brought this along for us to try.

I’m sure that anyone with any formal training in Suminagashi would be horrified with my creations. But there aren’t many Suminagashi artists around so that didn’t stop me from diving in.

Okay here is a quick overview if you want to do this at home.

You will need:

Ink. I found the same set we used for under $14 at amazon

Surfactant Solution. There are a bunch of possible solutions you can use here. Something like Photo Flo from Kodak should work well. Costs less than $12 on Amazon. (Seriously what would we do without Amazon!)


Basins or pans to hold the water.  Larger basins allow you to do larger prints

Ink Trays

Absorbent Paper.  Like something you would buy to do water color paintings. Ours were cut into pieces, half sheets which when folded make great stationary and triangles to make little flag banners. You could try out just about any material including fabrics.

Paint brushes. Fine and medium tip will both work depending on how much ink you want to put in the water.

Paper towels. For blotting ink.

Dispersant Solution. Optional, add if you have trouble keeping your ink floating.

Old Clothes. I am notorious for ruining my only good pair of jeans by jumping into a project and not taking the time to change. So keep in mind this is dye and it will stain your clothes.

Let’s do it.

Suminagashi, Japanese floating ink prints. Liturgy of life.

1. Prepare your ink. Start with about a teaspoon of ink.  Follow the directions on your package. Some can be used as they are others need to be mixed with a water and your Surfactant Solution. If you notice that your ink isn’t spreading, try adding a drop of surfactant solution your ink should spread about 3 inches when touched to the surface of the water.  If you have trouble with ink sinking consider adding a drop of dispersant solution.

2. Fill a basin with water. Pretty simple.

3. Lay a paper towel over the water’s surface to remove any dust. This is also good practice as it is the same procedure you will use to lay your paper over the top of the water once your ink is floating.

4. Dip your brushes in the ink. Start with one brush in each hand and rest your hands on the side of your basin.

5. Gently touch the surface of the water with your ink soaked brush. You should see the ink quickly disperse.Suminagashi, Japanese floating ink prints. Liturgy of life.

6. Have fun. Try different patterns of colors, try swirling your ink by blowing across the surface or running a hair through the water.

Suminagashi, Japanese floating ink prints. Liturgy of life.

7. Use a brush soaked with your surfactant solution to create clear space between ink colors.

8. Lay your paper on top of the water. The color will soak in quickly. Remove and pat dry. The color should not run.

Suminagashi, Japanese floating ink prints. Liturgy of life.

9.  Continue adding more colors or remove the rest of the ink with a paper towel and start over (you can just dump your water  and get new, depending on the size of the basin you are using).


Suminagashi, Japanese floating ink prints. Liturgy of life.
My creations. I’ll use the square pieces folded as a set of stationary and the little flags are a banner for Zenie’s room.

10.  Let your work dry and show it off.

This is one of the most relaxing art projects I have ever done and almost anyone can participate. Thanks Debbie for teaching me. I can’t wait to get a set of my own and show my daughter.

Enjoy and post pictures of your creations.






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