Suminagashi is an ancient technique of marbling paper with inks. The history of its conception is one for debate. We know for sure that Suminagashi dates back to the 12the century during the Edo period. However, Shigeharu a Japanese poet references the techniques as early as 825- 880 c.e. In the 12th century, Japanese Shinto priests where practicing the Suminagshi techniques for a few different applications. Some applications include decorative works that accompanied calligraphy of haikus. The Japanese believed there where a strong parallel between the fundamental essence of haiku poetry and the unpredictable results of Suminagashi. This connection made Suminagashi and haiku poetry a perfect match both conceptually and aesthetically. Alyson Kuhn a paper artist who has been practicing and teaching Suminagashi for years. Alyson elaborates on this further, “Making Suminagashi is very fluid, if the wind blows, it will ripple your design. It’s very much about the senses, about combining nature, yourself and art all in one. It’s so fitting that many Suminagashi prints are crafted to illustrate haiku. You can’t really control the process, and you aren’t really supposed to.”
The Japanese royal court enjoyed and lifted the practice out of obscurity for not only for the beauty of its craft but also for a more functional application. Aside from haikus Suminagahsi was also used for correspondence as well as official documents. This was adopted for its ability to ensure authenticity.
While researching Suminagashi I found that often their where references that compared Turkish marbling techniques with Japanese. Consequently, I developed a brief consensus on both crafts. In its essence, Suminagashi is viewed as more purist due to in its simplicity. Meaning that is there fewer variables such as in the colors, tools, and ingredients necessary in compared to Turkish marbling techniques. The process is one that requires few supplies and is generaly pretty simple and accessible. Sumingashi is generally more minimalist in its approach compared to other forms paper marbling.
To begin you will need a tray of water an about 2 inches deep, two brushes, ink and a surfactant. A surfactant is an agent that lowers the surface tension; the options vary from traditonal ox gal, which is oil from the ball gland of ox to carrageenan an agent used from seaweed. Some people even use Kodak Photo Flow or acrylic flow. Once you are setup you work with the two brushes, one dipped in ink and the other your surfactant. You then dip the brushes in the tray and go back and forth ever so slightly dipping the brushes into the tray. It is important to just touch the surface to not have the ink sink to the bottom of the tray. Once you are satisfied with the pattern you place a suitable paper down for a few seconds and then pull it off the water and lay it out o a board to dry.
The ability to take your time is a luxury unique to Suminagashi. The freedom to not race against the clock allows for a more therapeutic experience. Turkish marbling has many attributes that Suminagashi does not, however drying time it not one of them. Turkish marbling is much thicker and the sizing reduces the movement of the ink, providing for a more controllable state. This allows for more technical precision. In contrary, Suminagashi's movement is based on the wind and even your breath. This may be the most polarizing aspect between these two techniques. Beautiful in their own way, one must ask if they want that control or not.
Suminagashi has a long history and is now experiencing resurgence not just in Japan but also in many parts of this world. Some artists have maintained the traditional techniques such as Diane Maurer Mathison. Diane is a renowned paper artist. Dianne is also the author of the Ultimate Marbling Handbook. Another artist I recommend checking out is, Andrea Peterson. Andrea putts a strong emphasis on the variety of paper she uses. Andrea believes that the importance of the paper choice for Suminagashi is equally as important as when you decide on paper for printmaking, there are many variables to consider. Tadao Fukuda is one of the most respected traditional Sumingashi artist in the world. In his eighties he still has the energy to teach workshops on a regular basis Fakuda resides in Kyoto and is designated as an intangible cultural asset in Japan.
Other artists have blurred the lines between Turkish marble techniques and Suminagashi, working less traditionally. Often I see the mixing and matching of different materials from the different techniques. One example is Natalie Stopka. Natalie uses silk allowing for them to be hung on a wall or worn as scarves. Below is a few examples of Natalie’s work.
Many artists are taking inspiration from Suminagashi and applying it to their ceramic wok. One such artist is Carol Forster. Below are a few examples her work.
Another contemporary approach to paper marbling can be seen in the works coming out of Brooklyn New York's Calico Wallpaper. Calico Wallpaper is a company founded by Rachel and Nick Cope. Rachel and Nick combine principles and techniques from a variety of forms of paper marbling. Combining multiple methods, Rachel and Nick have developed their own unique contemporary adaptation of paper marbling. Below are a few works from Calico’s collection
Sources: Suminagshi- Zome by Tokutaro Yagi.