Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Marbling 101

After several months of collecting beautiful hand marbled papers from my travels, I decided to take the plunge and try making my own. Learning to marble has been on my wish list for some time now, so I set aside a couple of days in August.

First of all, you have to do a little planning and procuring in advance. You'll need to round up the tools and trays needed, in addition to the paints, paper, marbling gall, and other materials, and massive amounts of paper towels and newspapers. I've always admired the marbling done by Galen Berry; last spring I purchased his instruction book for marbling at Hollanders, and I liked his approach, so I chose to buy most of what was needed from Galen. I used some plastic drawer units from Target for my marbling trays, as I wanted to work small for this first batch of sheets.

The day before you plan to marble, you need to prepare the size and the paper. I used carrageenan for size; it comes in powder form and is mixed with water in a blender, then poured into a larger container with more water added. (I made a gallon for my session, in a recycled plastic iced tea container.) The paper was sponged with an alum mixture on one side, then dried for several hours. To prevent wrinkling, I pressed the dry sheets in my book press overnight. I made my brushes by banding plastic broom sticks together, making one for each paint color.

The next day, I mixed up some paint colors and began my adventure. The first sheet I pulled was exciting for me but technically not wonderful; some air spots between the paper and the paint didn't yield the even results I would have liked. However, by my third sheet, I had found that using a small plastic squeegee on the back side of the paper while it rested on the size would remove the air bubbles. My sheets became progressively better.

I grew more adventuresome with using the combs and rakes, trying to master the basic gel-get and non-pareil patterns so I could move on to peacock feathers and other exotic designs. Creating these patterns was the most fun, as you can achieve surprisingly sophisticated results with relatively simple, layered moves using the tools. The small tray and paper I was working with began to feel limiting as the session progressed, so I made a note to find a larger tray for the next session.

What fun I had in the morning! I pulled about 10-12 sheets, and was quite pleased with them. Then, in the afternoon, the chemistry began to change as the August humidity found its way into the studio. I tried a new batch of size, and began adding more marbling gall to the paints, but alas, the colors began to sink to the bottom faster than I could pull them from the surface. All of these observations were carefully recorded in a notebook that I kept nearby; sometimes in these sessions, we need to be as much scientist as artist. When you're embarking on a new venture, it's good to document the process.

So, here are a few of those first sheets. All in all, a fine first day! Stay tuned for more as I continue to explore this exciting media.


  1. Well all I can say is that if the sheets on display are your first go at it, I can't wait to see what you produce when you're an expert! I've been having fun myself in London and Venice, buying some hand-marbled papers myself and wishing that I had the space at the moment to try it myself... once I have a studio again I'll take a look at the book you mentioned. meanwhile, have fun!

  2. Very impressive for your first go at marbling. Really beautiful sheets - there'll be some wonderful covers coming up.