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Taking some lines for a swim: the art and craft of suminagashi

Placing circles of ink onto the water surface to create a piece of suminagashi
creating suminagashi

How to describe how I make what I make?

Whilst coaxing a design out of some ink resting on the water in front of me, something about taking a line for a walk came to mind. Good old google. By Paul Klee apparently, writing about drawing in 1925 when he was teaching at The Bauhaus School.

An active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal.

Suminagashi or Japanese marbling is ink (sumi) floating (nagashi) on water which goes some way to describe the practice but doesn’t cover the magical, somewhat spiritual aspect of its fashioning. Getting the ink lines to float is a practical skill of touching an ink-laden brush to the water surface followed by another brush of spreading agent to form many rings of ink. Keeping them from sinking or conversely sitting too thickly on the water is part of the skill of preparing the inks and then watching closely to see how they move on the water surface. Is it a confident crawl or a timid doggy paddle? Then the allowing bit happens, waiting intuitively to see what might be left alone or encouraged to shift ever so gently. Sometimes the ink is blown, sometimes fanned or even stirred with a stick, the piece emerging when it is ready to. The process is organic, unpredictable and ever so satisfying! The lines having swum and floated on the water are ready to be lifted off on a piece of washi or paper; an impression of a moment in time, never to be repeated.

So there it is; I take several lines for a swim, all doing free style and with no particular goal.


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