Marbling on paper and silk

About four years ago I did an evening workshop on marbling paper. It was fun but the results were not fantastic. So I thought I’d give it another go on a three-day workshop at City Lit with Royston Haward.

marbled paper

We started by learning about the history of marbling and saw examples of different patterns.

Then we started to get our hands dirty with suminagashi, a marbling technique used in Japan. This uses sumi calligraphy ink or other permanent inks, just floating on water, no size. These are some of the small samples I did.

suminagashi samples

We also tried it on rice paper.

suminagashi on rice paper

And I’d read that it works on silk too, so I took some unmordanted fine habotai silk in to try – it worked beautifully.

suminagashi on silk suminagashi on silk suminagashi on silk

Then we moved on to Western marbling. Unlike suminagashi, this mixes carrageen moss (a kind of seaweed) with the water to thicken it and support the colour. Patterns are created with toothpicks, combs or spatulas – sometimes a combination.

We tried with acrylics and gouache – most people seemed to get better results with gouache. The colour of the paper also affected the final result. Below are some combed patterns.

Below left is another combed pattern; on the right is a freeform pattern.

Below left is an antique straight pattern; right is a freeform pattern.

Below left is Spanish Moire pattern, made by rocking the paper as you place it on the size – close up it looks like folds of fabric. On the right is Italian pattern (nearly! – I should have added more wetting agent).

Below left is ghost marbling – one pattern marbled on top of another. On the right is a combed pattern.

I did have a go at marbling silk with gouache, but this came out very faint. It may have been better if I’d mordanted the silk first. (Paper for marbling requires mordanting with alum, unlike suminagashi.)

We also learnt how to make our own brushes and combs, as well as about polishing the paper afterwards, so it was a busy three days!

I have since washed the suminagashi silk and the pattern remains very clear. Could be another new product line? 😉

Marbling paper workshop

A lovely new gift shop, Turpentine, has just opened up in Brixton, and also runs workshops. They advertised one for yesterday on marbled paper, and as I am an enormous fan of the gorgeous Falkiner papers, I couldn’t resist the chance to have a go myself.

marbling workshop

The space is quite small, but they managed to get 12 people, plus a demo table and drying racks in there. I thought they were very brave to have people doing quite a messy activity just a couple of feet from the shelves holding their wares! Hence no photos of the process, as there was very little room to put anything down, let alone take photos. 🙂 But this was their first workshop, and they said afterwards that they realised they had been a bit ambitious with the numbers!

We each had a large plastic tray filled with the size, made with carrageen, or Irish moss. Because it is quite thick, it helps prevent the paint sinking to the bottom.

On top of the size we dropped blobs of acrylic paint mixed with water and washing up liquid, and then “combed” the surface with an implement improvised from cardboard and toothpicks, or swirled it with a paintbrush.

The paper had been treated with alum on one side to help the paint stick to the paper (like a mordant on fabric, I guess). We placed this side on top of the paint, pulled it off, washed off excess size, then hung it to dry. After making a huge mess, we left owners Jude, Amber and Alice to clear up and iron our dried paper before picking it up today! 🙂

Although the colours looked quite dark on the size, quite a lot got lost when we washed the paper, and it’s even lighter when it’s dry. Between each piece we tried to scrape remaining paint off the size with a piece of cardboard before applying more paint. But inevitably some gets left, and after three or four pieces it’s tricky to judge exactly how much paint is on the surface. It’s a bit of an art to get the right ratio of paint to water, too.

But the results were endlessly fascinating – and addictive, as we each tried to squeeze in just one more piece before the end of the workshop!

marbled paper 1 marbled paper 2 marbled paper 3 marbled paper 4

I was wondering whether this would work on fabric, given that it’s floppier, but discovered there are lots of sites giving advice on marbling fabric – there are some links here.

Something else to be added to my ever-expanding list of things to try! 🙂