Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sumi-e and Suminagashi

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.
Source: via Katie on Pinterest

Source: via Katie on Pinterest
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.


  1. how much Sumi ink did you need for one class? did you get it from Blick?

    1. I'm pretty sure I ordered 2 12 oz bottles last year, and after using it with 125 6th graders on 11x14 inch paper last year and using it with about the same number of 5th graders this year (smaller paper but both techniques), I still have only used about half a bottle. It goes a loooong way if you just remind the students of that. We used actual sumi brushes last year and really tiny brushes this year.
      Besides using Artsonia money, I get all my supplies from Sax.

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  3. good piece of art work.liked the shadings in eyes.very realistic.

  4. Wow. These are really beautiful and the Suminigashi seems really fun to teach and to learn. I would love to try something like this with my students and your post makes if feel so "do-able. Thanks so much for the tips.