I decided to post some Suminagashi “how to’s” or at least the methods and recipes that I found successful. Suminagashi is the Japanese art of floating ink on water and then transferring the design onto paper. It is similar to paper marbling, and Turkish Ebru. I’ve adapted this tedious process for easy to access modern acrylics and canvases.
The first important “ingredient” is alum, or aluminum sulfate. It is a “mordant” that is very important if you will be marbling onto fabric or paper. Its purpose is to make the paint adhere to the paper or fabric. I found that I didn’t really need it on gesso primed canvas, and whether I sponged it on the canvas beforehand and allowed it to dry before using, didn’t seem to make a difference as to whether the acrylic paint was going to adhere to the canvas. The recipe is 2 TB per pint of water. Just stir it together and sponge it all over the object you want to marble. I had a heck of a time finding alum in my grocery store. I finally found it with the spices as people use it to harden the starch in pickled vegetables so they remain crunchy.
The second important ingredient is “size”, or the medium upon which you float your paint or ink. Suminagashi traditionally used plain water for size, but Turkish Ebru uses thickened water. The water can be thickened with carrageenan, methyl cellulose, or corn starch. Some people even use liquid laundry starch right out of the bottle, although die-hard marblers will use either carrageenan or methyl cellulose. Carrageenan doesn’t keep well, and tends to degenerate in heat or humidity. It is made from sea weed. Methyl cellulose is best, but a little more pricey. Corn starch is harder to wash off the final marbled product. Surprisingly I couldn’t find liquid laundry starch anywhere in my local vicinity! Here are the recipes for carrageenan, methyl cellulose and corn starch size:
Marblers say you can get the finest, most detailed marbling from using carrageenan. It must be prepared in a blender. For a half-gallon:
Put 1 level tablespoon plus 1 level teaspoon of carrageenan powder into an empty blender cup. Fill it up to the top with cold water.Blend it on the highest speed for one minute. Then pour this foamy mixture into a half-gallon container (such as an empty plastic milk jug) and fill it on up to the top with water.
Shake it a bit to mix it. Let this mixture stand overnight in the refrigerator, or for at least 4 hours. This is to let the bubbles pop; it comes out of the blender as a mass of foam, and has to sit many hours before it all becomes liquid again. (adapted from marble art.us)
• Place 4 Tablespoons methylcellulose in a clean 2+ quart bowl. Pour 4 cups boiling water over the powder and stir gently to completely disperse powder. Do not create bubbles or froth.
• Add 4 cups ice water (can be all or part ice cubes). Stir gently to blend. Within 10 minutes, the liquid will quickly become thick and clear. Pour into clean tray, to a depth of 1-2″. It can be used immediately and, covered with plastic, will keep indefinitely. (Adapted from danielsmith.com)
The following recipe will yield one gallon of stock solution that can be thinned as needed.
* Powdered cornstarch * Mixing bowl
* Stove or hot plate
* Measuring cup
* Slotted spoon or metal whisk
* Large saucepan
1. Add 1 cup cornstarch to 1 cup cold water in the mixing bowl.
2. Stir until completely dissolved.
3. Bring 3 quarts water to a rolling boil.
4. Add the boiling water to the cornstarch mixture in the mixing bowl.
5. Stir the mixture with a slotted spoon or metal whisk until thick and smooth.
6. When cool, pour into a gallon jug for storage (milk container works well).
7. Add water to equal 1 gallon (about 2-3 cups). The mixture will thicken as it cools. Add water for correct consistency before using as size.
(Adapted from Donald Gruber, Ed.D., 2001)
Obviously, for the purposes of Suminagashi on my large-sized canvases, I had to make gallons of size.
The third important ingredient for Suminagashi is the surfactant, specifically for the acrylic paints. If you are using ink, I’m not sure that you need surfactant. Surfactant makes the paint disperse on the surface of your size, and keeps the colors separate so that they don’t become one muddy brown mess. You can use ox gall, or a couple of drops of dish soap in 1/4 cup of water. The use of soap is controversial, some say the soap breaks down the acrylic paint.
The final important ingredient is the paint! I used fluid acrylics, some swear by airbrush paint, and still others prefer actual marbling paints. I wanted a “dreamy” quality to my paintings, so the light pastel-type colors that I achieved were exactly what I wanted. Other artists prefer very vibrant colors, and those are best achieved with airbrush paints or marbling paints. The secret here is not to over dilute the paints with water or use too much surfactant. Flow Aid, or airbrush medium is a good idea so you don’t overly dilute the binders in the paint.
Well, that is it in a nutshell! All you have to do now is paint on your prepared size, and then transfer it onto your chosen marbled object! The rest is up to you! Good luck with this artistic process, and if you have any tips for me, I’d love to hear them!