Boston Children's Museum
308 Congress Street, Boston, MA 02210
Suminagashi, Japanese for “ink-floating,” is a paper marbling technique that was practiced in Japan as early as the 12th century. Creating these beautifully marbled pieces of paper encourages children to relax, focus and observe the changing swirls in front of them. You will be amazed by the beautiful results!
It is very important that everything used in this activity (the brushes, trays and jars) be as clean as possible. The trays or tubs you use should be at least 2 1/2” deep. Tupperware containers and some aluminum pie tins will work. Make sure that the paper you are using is smaller than the width and length of the trays.
Fill each tray with 2 inches of room-temperature water, making sure to keep the water free of dust, oil or soap. Pour a small amount of sumi ink into each empty baby food jar, and have pairs of students share a jar. Try this activity first before showing your students the process.
Ask your students if they know what a “swirl” looks like. Where are some places that you might see swirls? If they don’t mention it, ask your students if they have ever seen swirls in clouds or water.
Ask your students if they have heard of Japan. Can they find Japan on a map? What do they think it is like in Japan in the summer (or whatever season you are in)? Tell them that they will be making a kind of decorated paper that people have been making in Japan for over a thousand years.
Create beautiful marbleized paper using this Japanese technique!
Once your children have each made at least 1 print, bring them together to talk about what they’ve done. Do they have any tips and tricks they’ve discovered that they can share with the group? Did they notice any swirls? How did they make them? Any unique patterns they created that they could teach the rest of the kids how to make? Point out that this is different from a lot of art where the artist controls the paint, the brush, etc. With suminagashi, the water and the ink are in control—the artist simply captures “moments” in the swirling water and ink. After 3-5 minutes of discussion, send them back to create some more.
Have your students continue to make suminagashi. Try different kinds of paper to see what makes the best prints. Ask your students about other kinds of art that other countries and cultures make. Does anyone in your afterschool have some art that someone from their family made that they can bring in to share?