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SUMINAGASHI

Suminagashi is the ancient Japanese technique of decorating paper with inks. It is believed to be the oldest form of marbling, originating in China over 2,000 years ago and practiced in Japan by Shinto priests as early as the 12th century.

The word Suminagashi translates literally as spilled ink. Centuries before the art of marbleizing papers was practiced in Western cultures, Japanese craftsmen created patterns by floating ink on the surface of water and transferring it to a sheet of paper. Because the nature of water is ever-changing and constantly moving, Suminagashi printers are viewed as great masters of control. Each monoprint is like a fingerprint unique and unreproducible.

Two pages of waka poems by shikchi Mitsune (aprox. 859-925). 20cm height, 32cm wide. Silver, Gold, Color, and ink on suminagashi paper. From a copy of the Sanjurokunin Kashu or "Thirty-Six Immortal Poets" kept in the Hongan-ji Temple, Kyoto. This multi-volume manuscript, which contains the oldest example of marbled paper known today, was presented to the Emperor Shirakawa on his sixtieth birthday in 1118 C.E.

An example of suminagashi paper used as an element in traditional Japanese sumi-e painting. From the National Treasure Fan-shaped album of the Hokeky Sutra (Lotus Sutra), Heian period 12th c. C.E., currently kept in the Shitenn-ji Temple in Osaka.