I seem to be a bit past the point of ultra-excitement over this, but a couple of days ago in drawing class, we undertook the creation of a number of prints using the technique, suminagashi. This is basically a really, really old Japanese marbling technique, which we undertook with modern materials.
The reason I didn’t post about it then is that it seems there is some knowledge that isn’t widely known, to doing this properly. Today I got permission to post about this online — I wasn’t sure if it was a trade secret or not, but apparently it’s OK to share.
We used a surfactant known as Sumifactant to add blank spaces within the suminagashi images. Basically what happens is that you have two clean brushes, a drop or so of Sumifactant on a palette, and a drop or so of each color of suminagashi ink. We used the Boku-Undo brand of Japanese marbling inks, which are nontoxic.
Any toxicity concerts about the Sumifactant? Possibly. There is no listing of ingredients and the material itself is fairly rare; I wasn’t able on a quick search to find an MSDS. I tried to push through my cleanliness disorder to put my hands in the water. 😉 What I can say is that the inks on one’s hands clean up easily with soap and water, and I experienced no irritation greater than that which I normally experience.
What happens is one gets a vat of water which is somewhere between 1″ and 2″ deep — I found the deeper water to work better for me; it made more fluid images. One brush is a Sumifactant brush; the other is an ink brush. Dip one brush in the Sumifactant and touch it to the water’s surface; then take the other brush, dip it in ink, and touch it to the water’s surface, somewhere within the initial Sumifactant circle. Alternate Sumifactant and inks.
After a number of concentric circles have been made, blow the water or drag a paintbrush handle through the water to mix up the pattern of ink on the surface. Take an absorbent piece of paper — I found Strathmore Bristol (vellum and smooth) and Watercolor papers to work very well — and lay it on top of the inks. Pull the paper back up, and there you have your print.
I didn’t do this part in class, but I sometimes found there was extra ink that had not soaked into the paper — I’ve seen online that this excess can be rinsed off. Then the pieces can be laid out to dry — I found a backing of newspaper helped this process, by allowing for air flow.
1) I found it particularly nice to mix colors with the ink brush before touching it to the water’s surface again, taking my lead from a program on Japanese flower painting which aired on NHK World (the artists would mix each color individually before applying the paint to the paper, which gave a very “lively” appearance to the paintings). However, I also got some very pale lilacs when mixing red and blue, which causes me to think that maybe I was mixing my Sumifactant and ink brushes up. I caught myself doing this at least three separate times, so I find it likely that I did it more often than I thought.
2) The paper needs to be smaller than the vat of water. This basically meant for us that each paper had to be half-size or smaller — we used disposable aluminum roasting pans as our vats.
3) It’s okay to take some time between laying down the color and laying the paper on the water’s surface, but I found that for my process it was better to lay down the color, cut the paper and let the color move around a little bit, then drag the paintbrush handle through the water, then lay the paper on top. If too much time passed between swirling the color and printing, I found I missed the “sweet spot” of swirls where they still aren’t too complicated, and still have a good color concentration.
4) The concentration of hue or value in the finished prints very much depends on the absorbency of the paper one is using. For the most striking results, I found a clean vat and black ink with white paper worked best, however, as I said above, there are also some very interesting results one can get from mixing colors as one goes. If one uses paper with a good degree of sizing in it, the prints will be more pastel. More absorbent paper will obtain a deeper color, though obviously some colors, like yellow or orange, will appear lighter because of their “values” — closer to white than to black.
5) When using inks which weren’t black, it was extremely difficult to see the ink floating in the water. However, they showed up clearly in the prints. Why? How? I’m not sure, but I suspect it is because the inks are transparent, and the reflection from the bottom of the bin was greater than the light reflected off of the water’s surface itself.
6) The very last bit is the fact that a print can be sandwiched between two pieces of paper and ironed on a “Low” iron setting to flatten it out. However, I can’t be responsible for any unexpected fumes or fires that may eventuate from doing this, in the same way that I can’t be responsible for any toxicity that arises from using the Sumifactant.
Whoo. I think that’s about it! I found doing this exercise to be very freeing for me, because I normally work in a relatively tight style. Suminagashi practically demands that one let go of control over the finished product; because the motion of the water itself is uncontrollable. I’m thinking of uploading an image of one of my prints for a header here. 🙂