Blog: Back to School

Back to School: Suminagashi

A couple weeks ago Kim and I went to a lecture about Marbling Paper at Kremer Pigments in NYC. It was a great lecture by Sarah Oppenheimer and I learned a ton.

While I love the Western style of paper marbling I was totally taken by Suminagashi – which is the Japanese paper marbling technique where you basically float sumi ink on top of water.

We couldn’t try the technique ourself since it was a lecture and demo but I knew I had to try this at home.

The pictures you see – starting with the one above are all from my second try. The first try was a total disaster and I didn’t take photos because basically I just used “bad words” and tried to figure out what was going on. My ink would mostly blob to the bottom of the container , the ink would just run off my paper …water everywhere- ink everywhere – you get the picture.

But ..of course I wouldn’t give up – after some digging for information of what possibly could have gone wrong and some research and reading I was ready for the second try and that was wayyyyy better.

For this second trial I used Sumi Ink – which is the black ink you see in the pictures as well as some Shellac Inks by Kremer Pigments. You also need a surfactant (which can be watercolor medium, dishwash soap, a marbling surfactant, soap nut ….and it is a trial and error to see how well they work) and two or more Sumi brushes. The problems of my first trial were a mixture of wrong surfactant and also dipping the brushes way too far into the water.

Basically you start with for example two or three brushes- here in the picture above you see a sample where I worked with three brushes . One will be dipped into the surfactant and the other ones in ink. Then you patiently dip just the very tip of the brush onto the water surface and alternate between the brushes – meaning between the colors and the surfactant.

At some point you will have tons of rings on your water surface and you can then either manipulate the “design” with some “wind” – meaning carefully blowing the surface or using a hair of your scalp to go through it. Then you lay paper -preferably washi paper on top of the surface and slowly pull it off.

Does that sound stressful to you? LOL- not at all- all good. The washi paper as the one above was my favorite result but also the most complicated to handle. Taking it off of the water and not ripping it – not folding it and just handle it in any normal way was sooo tough – little bit of stress here …but I think next time and with more practice that will work well. Having some non-washi paper on hand definitely helped.

Look at the gorgeous pattern and the texture of the washi paper- I cannot wait to use this as collage paper but that will take a bit hahahah- I need to pet it a bit more before i can let go ;)

The one above was after I blew onto the surface before adding the paper on top – I love how the rings just went nuts and zig-zaggy . BTW this was done with red and black ink. The colors will always be very very washed out and muted, which is the charm of this. For me this creates so many opportunities to incorporate the paper into my artwork without being overpowering.

For this one above I used a hair of mine and swirled it through. Apparently the oil on your hair makes sure that the rings won’t get interrupted as it would if you would use something else like a comb – but don’t quote me on this- I haven’t tried a ton yet because I first wanted to get a feel of how things work …without having the ink coming off the paper or just sitting in the bottom of the tray.

It was so much fun and I love the couple papers I made with my first sitting. I could have done way more papers but the problem was basically space – next time I def. have to set myself a bit better up – close to the sink and also with some better space for the paper to dry.

I would also love to try some other colors and actually also different inks- for example also acrylic inks. I am not sure if it will work but hey – that doesn’t stop me ;)

The blue came out quite nice

And then this one – I pulled the blue ones on the top and then instead of cleaning and skimming the water right away I added some black ink with surfactant and then printed again – I love the result.

The one on top is a layered print – first I printed black and white and then blue and white on top . I love it- but have to practice this also a bit more to get some better prints.

And there you go – a pile of paper that I love. I cannot wait to do this again. If you want to try it yourself find different videos about Suminagashi – and start maybe with a small container and dishwasher soap and see if it works – It seems to be quite a trial and error if you do not want to dive right away in the “traditional right way” but I have to say – I enjoy that journey because that gives me the possibility to adjust to my own needs and to what I have.

I cannot wait to show you some art journal spreads I used them for.

Do you like those prints and how could you see yourself using them?

Comments (8)

  • Dee Spillane


    Nathalie, this is so cool. Did you do some journaling with them? Also did you ever try acrylic inks. I just saw this post recently and am intrigued. I have tried marveled paper but never this.


  • Jill Elizabeth


    I love that you have documented your experiences so well. I would love to see an update . Surely you’ve had lots of practice since . Where did you get those lovely white trays that you are working in.. seems so much better than the clear plastic bins that I have been using…


  • Christine Mack


    Nat, I loved your papers.. I have done suminigashi before and here are some suggestions: PAPER-Masa and Canson’s Mi Tientes work well. You can get both at Dick Blick. To dry your paper try blotting your print (don’t rub, blot) with paper towels with no pattern on it like Viva or blotter paper. Your print will dry in about 15 minutes if you blot it first. INK-acrylic inks will not work with plain water. You must use a thickened water like for regular marbling and you must put a mordant on the paper to make it stick. You can use printer’s ink or India ink but you will need to thin it with a dispersant. A good source for Sumi ink in colors is a small kit you can get either at Dick Blick or Amazon. Search for Suminagashi and the kit should appear. Blick also has a nice tutorial on their web site. Hope these tips help and have fun with suminagashi.


    • nathalie-kalbach


      Christine, thank you so much for your tips! that is super helpful !


  • Nancy G.


    I’ve seen videos on this process, but never tried it. Thanks for sharing your experiments. You make me want to try.


  • Jean Goza


    Nat these are so amazing! I would have to hang them on the wall awhile to enjoy the “flow” of lines before I could cut into them. Thanks for sharing!


    • nathalie-kalbach


      Thank you Jean- yeah it is really tough to cut into them LOL- but the good thing is I can always make more – cannot wait for my bigger studio.


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Back to School: Drypoint Etching at JCAS

This winter I took a drypoint etching class with Bruno Nadalin, a fellow Jersey City artist at the Jersey City Art School. I have taken a Linocut Class with him before and he is an amazing teacher, so I knew it would be good. And I wasn’t disappointed. The class with 6 x 3hour lessons  was AWESOME.

In this class we did drypoint on acetate/plexi plates. Using a sharp needle and/or other tools you scratch an image into the plate. The plate above is the one I did in the first lesson after we practiced with some different applications and tools

The plate then is getting inked up and then the ink is wiped off again – the ink remains in the creases of your etching and that is where the magic happens.

Here is Bruno putting a sample onto the printing press at the JCAS.

and here is his amazing sample coming out of the press!

Above is the very first print I did with that plate.

For the second one I applied a bit of color to the jumper.

In the second lesson, Bruno showed us how to make multicolor prints with the technique called a la poupee.

And below is his sample

I started with a new plate which I had prepared at home- see I just couldn’t stop scratching at home- LOL

And here is the second one with the powerhouse – some of you might recognize this building :)

The third print came out the way I envisioned – I really love it. As Bruno says it is all in the wiping. Making the plates is actually not the work load, it is inking those plates up and then wiping them down again that makes up most of the technique and time.

The print above was an experiment. I did some mono prints at home with Akua Inks which I always wanted to try out on a gel plate and I used this interesting paper which I had gotten at a convention many years ago. It is made out of plastic but feels like cloth. I printed on top of the mono print and I really like the outcome.

Here is a another plate I made in different stages – a part of the factory building I live in.

Isn’t it cool how different the images look and the mood they convey based on the inking? So cool to experiment with that.

Here are a couple prints from the students in the class.

I don’t want to bore you , but here are a couple more- the Flatiron Building – as you know it is a reoccurring image in my work, so of course I had to make a plate with it as well.

And then some prints from the last lesson where we did some two plate printing. Basically you create a mono type and then print on top of it – there are different ways to approach this of course.

First one above as you can see I didn’t wipe that well – but I still love how the colors came out

Here I had way too much ink on the first plate so I didn’t print the second plate on top, but I actually love it as it is. I kept it and might do something else to it later – I will see.

Here is the second try – less ink now- basically the ghost print of plate one and now with the second plate printed on top.

Another one – I like that one a lot.

And last but not least one where I used once again one of those mono prints I did at home – the cloth-like paper had the ink of the skyline bleed a bit – I love this.

What I learned in this class:

  • It was first a bit hard for me to think I would not be able to do this all the time at home without a printing press but then that made me more focused and prepared for the lessons
  • The application of the ink and the wiping was a technique and whole process on it’s own and what a fascinating one it is
  • I loved the different ways one plate could be treated for different prints
  • I love the little time span where you just don’t know what is coming out of your press – when you lift up your print and see what happened. It reminded me of going to the photolab to finally get the vacation photos and seeing them for the first time.
  • There are art forms you just cannot get away with not being clean and organized …clean your space, clean your hands, clean the plates, clean the press …so much cleaning. LOL
  • I loved combining mono types with this class
  • There is only a certain amount of prints you can use the plates, and then that is it forever

What I take away for the future:

  • JCAS has print parties where you can use the printing press for a small fee- I def. will make up some new plates and join in the future to make some more prints
  • A way to take some of the mono prints on the gelli plate further – I want to explore this more
  • I enjoyed taking a class even though it was sometimes tough to go for 3 hours after a whole day of work- I need to do this more often again
  • I loved the pace of the class, I think I sometimes pack too much in my own classes and forget that it is also great for the students to just explore what they learned for a bit. Of course that is easier to do when you have a class that spans over several weeks but I def. look for a way to think about this in my multi-day-classes.


If you are in the area, I highly recommend taking a class with Bruno Nadalin or a class at the Jersey City Art School– it is a great place and they offer a lot of fun and different workshops and art events.


Comments (5)

  • Jill McDowell


    Nat, love seeing your class and your prints. They look awesome. I know what you mean about wiping the plates. It takes a long time to get to know them. And keeping clean is definitely an issue. But it’s so worth it when you pick up the felts, see that lovely embossing on the back, and then reveal the print. Glad you had a good time. I’ve signed up for the spring Printmaking class at Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven. It’s addictive. ?


  • Bruno


    I’m so happy you enjoyed the class, Nathalie! It was great having you as a student again :)
    I really like reading your thoughts on your work. I find I often move so fast through things I don’t take the time to reflect on what I’ve done, so it’s good to be reminded about how important that is. I also like your 4th observation about the time span when you’re waiting for the print to be revealed. That little surprise is what makes it fun!


    • nathalie-kalbach


      It was fantastic- you are really an amazing artist and teacher! It is always a huge booster in inspiration for me to take a class with you and I learn so much – plus you are the most patient person even when we are super messy and can’t stop giggling about a la poupee ;) Cannot wait for a new class with you in the future.


  • Clavell


    These are incredible!…fascinating! I hope some of these find themselves FRAMED and HUNG on your walls! They are wonderful pieces of art! ♥


    • nathalie-kalbach


      Awe thank you Clavell! Yeah- I started matting some of them and some of my friends are already in line for some- so I am super stoked that they are finding some nice homes :)


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