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What is Marbling and why we love it

Once upon a time…Nah- that is not how our story begins…

Our story begins when my 4-H co-leader/ partner- in- crime Denice introduced Matthew to oil paint marbling on water during a 4-H art project.

Matt fell in love with the process. Me- not so much. Matt kept asking to do more of it. I was determined that oil paint fumes and the messy oil paint clean up would not part of our household. Plus there is the fact that both Matt and I are both chemically sensitive and chemicals trigger our sinuses and asthma so no to paint fumes.

But he persisted and I went to work researching the process. Now you have to understand I love to do research, its why I became honest to goodness librarian, so several research months later- I fell in love with the process too.

Marbling is an ancient printmaking process that produces a one of kind print that can never really be duplicated.

Historically it first was practiced in Japan in the 12th century where it called Suminagashi. Suminagashi literally translates to floating ink. Sumi, as Suminagashi is called, uses an oily ink and a resist to create a ring-like pattern that is disturbed by blowing on it or manipulating it. It was a means to prevent counterfeiting of important documents or to produce gifts. It was done by masters who were employed by the ruling class.

Sumi traveled through Asia in the 1300s and 1400s where the Turks made it their national art. In Turkey, it is called Ebru. Ebru translates to cloud painting. Ebru is known generally as paper Marbling but it’s not just done on paper. Ebru uses a thickened water-base ( called a size) and thin paints to produce prints. Again it was done for the ruling classes by masters then it spread to bookmaking where it is best known.

So in 2014-15, we started with ebru. We tried corn starch and other thickening agents because the 2 primary thickening agents: methylcellulose ( brand name Methocel) and carrageenan are expensive.  However, we have learned that methocel and carrageenan give us the results we wanted. Our learning curve also included learning that cheap craft paint also did not give us the desired results. Professional art paints are expensive but worth it.

Then we visited our local Tandy Leather shop in 2016. We weren’t even in the shop 15 minutes when Matt wanted to know if it was possible to marble leather. So back to learning we went.

So we added leather to our printmaking process. We, up to this point, did paper, fabric, wooden objects, and now leather.

Then 2017 he wanted to learn more about Sumi. So we learned and made Sumi prints. We learned sumi does not make really good prints on leather but we use paper for  our primary prints when we do Sumi.

In 2018 Matt wanted to learn to print on metal and glass. Well, acrylic does not stick to metal or glass well and there was the whole thickening agent thing so I went hunting. Only to find that oil paint will stick to glass and primed metal. So now we had come full circle to oil-based paints. This process uses oil-based paint and plain water. It’s called hydro- dipping.

So we do it all: paper, fabric, leather, wood, metal, and glass.

I have found an art form that constantly challenges me to learn more, to understand more and constantly surprises me. I have met some really cool artists and found a community that runs the gamut from the casual hobbyist to serious studio artist who recreates classic patterns and makes their own paint.

Now you know why we do what we do and our love of the ancient art of marbling.