X Marks the Spot

Make your own map-inspired art at home with this easy, Japanese marbling technique.

At Portland Children’s Museum, we love exploring unique art processes from around the world. With the help of one of our recent artists-in-residence, Shannon Newby, we’ve been exploring the Japanese, paper-marbling technique known as Suminagashi printing and brushing up on our map-making skills.

Shannon is an installation artist who enjoys experimenting with familiar materials in new ways. She is inspired by the natural world and by the places she explores. In Suminagashi, each print is completely unique — Shannon noticed that many of her prints looked like topographical maps. The process and results have been captivating museum visitors of all ages. Try this technique and perhaps make a map of unexplored lands; it could even lead to treasure!

Materials Needed:



Shallow plastic or metal container

Suminagashi ink in 3 to 4 colors (available at most art stores or online)

Paint tray

Small paintbrushes, toothpicks or droppers


Paper (Newsprint works well, as does any unsized paper. Sizing is a chemical found in many papers that keeps materials from soaking in — but that’s exactly what’s called for in this case. Ask your local art supply store for help if needed.)

Rags for mopping up spills or putting finished prints on to dry

Paint-friendly clothes or a smock.


1. Add water to the container so there is approximately one or two inches of standing water.

2. Add a couple drops of desired colors to paint tray.

3. Paint! Dip brushes, toothpicks, or eye droppers into the ink and then onto the surface of the water. Watch the ink spread across the top of the water. Try putting a drop of another color in the middle of the first drop, using different brushes or droppers if possible. Repeat, play, experiment. If you like, gently swirl colors together or lightly make lines through your colors with a toothpick.

4. Take a piece of your paper, cut to fit your container, and gently drop it on top of the water, tapping down any edges or bubbles that form under the surface.

5. Pull the paper out of the water and see what shapes and stories you can find in your print! Dry on a rag, wire rack, or in the sun. After you make some Suminagashi prints, explore the shapes in your prints. If you like, try using pens and markers to create symbols for your landscape. Make a key so others will be able to read your maps too. You can write directly on your prints or use clear hard plastic, perhaps from a frame that you could use to display the finished piece. That will create a layered effect. Suminagashi prints also make great cards or framed artwork on their own.

Jess Graff
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