The Art of Painting in Water

Suminagashi is the ancient Japanese technique of painting on water to create marbleized effects on paper.

Literally, it means “ink-floating”, which is in reference to the Sumi-e inks that were originally used in the technique.

The patterns are the result of color floated on either plain water or a viscous solution, and then carefully transferred to an absorbent surface, such as paper or fabric.

Now, artists use both traditional inks and acrylic paints (usually watered down) to create this beautiful artwork.

What do you think of this technique? Have you ever tried it? Please share your opinion in the comments.

The above image is representative of what most people think of when they think of suminagashi.

Some of you might remember learning a basic form of this technique in a high school or college-level art class. Because it’s a relatively inexpensive in terms of materials, it’s a popular project. And the end result is almost always beautiful, as long as the inks don’t get mixed together.

Some artists have taken the technique beyond a general marbling effect to create more concrete images. Though these are often still quite abstract, they have a more defined form than basic marbling. The end result, once transferred to paper, is quite beautiful.

Here’s a video that illustrates the technique:

You can see in the video above that the technique requires a steady hand, both in applying the ink or paint to the water, and then in placing the paper on the surface to pick up the ink.

The success of the technique also depends heavily on a grasp of fluid dynamics, in addition to basic artistic ability. The artistic side of things takes on more importance depending on the complexity of the image being painted.

Popular subjects for these types of paintings include natural elements like mountains, clouds, and landscapes.

The technique originated in China over 2,000 years ago, but was practiced by Shinto priests in Japan starting in the 12th century. The basic technique remains largely unchanged, despite more modern tools sometimes being used.

One difference you’ll notice between the video and the traditional technique is that in the traditional technique, the pigments were blown across the water to form shapes and swirls, while in the video, a tool is used to manipulate the pigment across the surface of the water.

Here’s another great video that shows the process:

There are also plenty of videos available on YouTube that can show you the basic techniques used in Suminagashi. Just search for Suminagashi or painting on water to find them.

Have you ever experimented with this technique? Share your experiences and thoughts below…

  • Vivek Parmar

    Did not know about this technique, thanks a lot for sharing
    Would be a great help to Japan after such an massive disaster

  • DaveP

    Wow. Guessing oil based paints on water?

    How does the final dragging of the paper over the rim of the dish not drag paint over the paper?

    Amazing in skilled hands. Tks

  • Dessign

    wow this is amazing, beautiful artwork, and thank you for a video,

  • Sony

    Really great video. painting in water…first time I saw this kind of video.

  • John

    China is always ahead in technology from other country. Water painting is a old art. Nice video you bring in.

  • Jorgen Kesseler

    Refreshing post. It great too see something not webdesign related from time too time

  • razzler

    it’s also called paper marbling

  • Gaurav Mishra

    Will try this on weekend.
    Advanced hobbies booking

  • Grün Weiss

    soo great, genial

  • Alt Web Design

    Amazing videos. Thank you.

  • Ahmed Naim Cogenli

    This art is a traditional Turkish art and it is called Ebru, there is even a TV channel in the US called Ebru TV ( , please see this YouTube video

  • e11world

    Pretty Crazy and I love this style!! Wow!

  • Oxana

    Thank you a lot for this article! It’s just amazing!

  • inspirationfeed

    Wow, this is incredible! If only I could do something like this…..

  • Ergün

    it is a turkish technique.. and the girl in the video is also turkish.

  • Ali

    You’re talking about the history of Suminagashi, but the videos certainly Ebru (Same type of art but different origin – Tradational Ottoman/Turkish Art);
    – on first video’s background music is definitely Ottoman which played by “Ney”
    – on second video, you can see “Ebru” text on the wall at 01:21

    Ebru and Suminagashi are same type but they are not related with each other (You have to check Wikipedia for details: “Whether or not this method was somehow related to earlier Chinese or Japanese methods mentioned above has never been concretely proven.” )

    At least you have to give some historical information about Ebru at this article.

  • Frank

    I`m not really into this kind of art, but this videos are great!!
    Thank you!

  • Web Design Stuff

    Really amazing artwork. Like the video. Thank you.

  • SampeiMihira

    Heard several times about Sumi-e but never seen something similar !
    Thanks for sharing