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What is Paper Marbling?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 June 2014
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Paper marbling is a type of paper crafting which involves suspending paint or pigments on a liquid surface and then dipping paper into the solution, allowing it to pick up a distinctive design. Depending on how the pigments have been manipulated, the design may have swirls, dots, spirals, splotches, and so forth, and it can tend to resemble marble, which explains the name. Paper marbling has been practiced for at least 1,000 years, and it appears to have originated in Asia.

To marble paper, a craftsperson fills a tray with water or a more viscous fluid, depending on the style being practiced. Pigments or paints are dropped into the water, and then manipulated with brushes, straws, and so forth to create a feathery, swirling pattern. A piece of strong paper is gently laid on top of the water and then smoothly lifted so that the pattern of pigment is transferred to the paper. The end result is a monoprint, a distinct print which can never be repeated. After careful drying, the marbled paper can be used in any number of places; the endpapers of books are commonly made with marbled paper.

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The oldest form of paper marbling appears to be suminagashi, a Japanese technique which uses pigments like sumi, a dense black ink, and ai, an indigo ink. The Chinese picked up the art, and it spread slowly to the Middle East, where samples were acquired by European traders. French artisans became masters of the technique, but they guarded their secrets closely until the mid-1800s, when paper marbling exploded in popularity. The Victorians were particularly fond of marbled paper, and a range of examples from this period in history can be found.

Many people who practice bookbinding by hand also practice paper marbling, since marbled endpapers are a popular feature in fine books. Craft stores often carry an assortment of pigments which are specifically designed for marbling, along with papers which take well to the technique. Treated papers cannot be used, as they will resist the marbling, and fragile papers will not hold up to the dipping process. Sturdy papers which have not been sized, or treated to resist capillary action, are ideal.

It is fairly easy to play around with paper marbling at home, and paper marbling can also make a fun lesson plan for teachers. Many art centers also offer advanced classes in the technique, for people who are interested in learning fine points of paper marbling.

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Discuss this Article

indigomoth
Post 3

I use marbled paper as my writing paper (yes, I still write real letters on paper and everything!) and I find the best way to do it is to get real paper marbling supplies from the art store.

Then, once you have set everything up and mixed up a bunch of colors you like on the water, you dip as many papers in as you can, as carefully as you can.

While you won't get the same pattern each time, and that's not the point anyway, you will end up with a matching set of colors. That way, you can make sure your letters won't be complete eye sores of clashing colors.

Mor
Post 2

I use marbled paper as my writing paper (yes, I still write real letters on paper and everything!) and I find the best way to do it is to get real paper marbling supplies from the art store.

Then, once you have set everything up and have mixed up a bunch of colors you like on the water, you dip as many papers in as you can, as carefully and as quickly as you can.

While you won't get the same pattern each time, and that's not the point anyway, you will end up with a matching set of colors.

That way, you can make sure your letters won't be complete eye sores of clashing colors.

KoiwiGal
Post 1

There was a craft fair we used to go to as kids and I remember there was always a paper marbling booth there.

I thought the designs were the prettiest in the world, with all the different swirls of color.

Unfortunately my paper marbling techniques weren't really up to standard.

I always wanted to have as many colors as I could on the paper, because I believed that would make it even more beautiful.

Instead I always just ended up with brown swirls. So, if your kids end up with brown swirls, explain the problem and let them try again.

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