Last year I tried Sumi-e (Japanese ink painting) with my 6th grade students and was pretty frustrated with the results. It was challenging for the students and they had an especially hard time creating value. I tried a different approach with my 5th grade students for our Cultural Heritage Week East Asian focus this fall and I'm much happier with how everything went!
The solution was to actually incorporate a second Sumi technique- Suminagashi. Suminagashi is a Japanese paper marbling technique that involves suspending ink on top of water and printing on paper.
After watching this video tutorial from Blick, it seemed very doable.
I had a small tub of water for each table and poured some Sumi ink in a cup. The students very carefully applied a couple drops of ink to the surface of the water, used the end of their brush to create gentle ripples in the water which creates cool organic patterns in the ink, then dropped their paper on top of the water and lifted to reveal their marbled paper. I have 6 student tables at this school and with one student printing at a time, it only took about 10 minutes. The students were very supportive of each other as they took turns and were just as excited to see each piece of paper. The students lightly blotted their papers on a piece of paper towel and left them there to dry while I demonstrated how to hold a paintbrush for Sumi-e. After my demo, the students had time to start painting landscapes on top of their papers. Some were able to finish this project totally in one 40-minute class period but most needed some time in their next class.
The marbling is a bit hard to see on some of my photos. That's what I get for leaving my camera and having to use my cellphone. :)
When the paintings were dry, I flattened them under some heavy books then the students mounted on red or black construction paper for display.