EBRU (Marbling)






Ebru (marbling) Samples (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12)

It's called Marbling because the results look like the swirls of color in marble stone. It's been around as an art form for a long time - old books sometimes have marbled end-papers. The idea is that you float fabric paints on the surface of a thick liquid that you prepare (called "Size"), kind of like oil on water. The floating paints can be swirled and mixed into patterns. When you lay a treated shirt, piece of fabric or paper down on top of the paint, the paint adheres to the fabric exactly where it touches. The swirly patterns of colored paint are tranfered to the shirt or fabric. Each design is unique and can never be repeated. As a technique, it's both easy and hard. It's easy to do, great fun for kids and safe. It's hard in that the more you do, the better results you will get and the difference between your early designs and your later designs will be very noticeable.

For centuries, marbling was an art form found only inside the covers of books. Contemporary artists and designers have rediscovered this versatile design motif, and marbled papers are now seen everywhere, in picture frames and lamp shades, wine labels and fine art. This ancient craft, named "ebru" (cloud art) by its 15th-century Persian practitioners, is now undergoing a renaissance.

By most accounts, European-style paper marbling originated in Persia in the 1400s. The name of the first marbler is a mystery. The invention was probably an accidental one, made by some observant artists who noticed that paints would float on water. The exact formula of the earliest marblers is lost; however, the process moved, city by city, through Turkey, Spain, Italy, France, and the rest of Europe, probably along the trade routes, over the next three centuries.

As it traveled, each country adapted the technique and changed the materials and recipes to accord with indigenous materials. Very few useful illustrations of these practices were ever made, and almost no instructions were written down in the earliest centuries of the craft.

In those days, a trader guarded such knowledge. Secrets wee passed on only to apprentices sworn to silence, or from parents to offspring. This general attitude of propriety still exists today. Most marblers are very, very reticent about divulging their processes, their materials, and their sources, which is a major reason that marbling has remained such an esoteric craft.

In the mid-1800s, there was a general revival of interest in marbling. It became the decorative paper used by bookbinders, eclipsing the use of printed papers, paste papers, Dutch gilt, and drip marbled papers. Much credit must be given to the English, who, in the mid-1800s, published several comprehensive books on the marbling process, thus boosting it out of its secrecy and guaranteeing that the art would never die out.

Over the centuries, the art of marbling has taken on many different forms. The Turks did not use marbled papers for bookbinding, but, by using stencils, made them an element of figurative art. They would lay down a cut-paper stencil or use a block-out medium, then marble different areas with a human figure or animal. They also very effectively used marbled patterns as a framing and bordering device. Another Turkish application that was quite different from the later European uses was to create figures, animals, and flowers directly on the marbling surface using a stylus.

As marbling moved into the Mediterranean countries of Spain and Italy, it began to develop into its present form. The Italians, and especially the Venetians, picked up the art of marbling and made it a wonderful process for creating repeated patterns. To this day, the Venetians and the Florentines are famous all over the world for their marbling. From lower Europe it spread into France and on into Holland and England. Along the way, hundreds of anonymous artisans must have sweated away thousands of hours over their marbling trays trying to re-invent the process, trying to eliminate exasperating problems and to find new and better materials and methods. This process is still going on.

The basic technique which, throughout all its historical variations, has never changed. The process is always the same: paints are made to float on the surface of water where they are manipulated into designs and then transferred to a sheet of paper. In order to make this happen, the artist must learn to control the behavior of the paint. The moment the paints hit the water, they will either sink to the bottom of the tray (and darken the marblerís day), or magically float and spread, enabling the marbler to coax them almost effortlessly into liquid swirls. Then paper or silk is simply laid onto the surface where it instantly picks up the floating film of paint. Thus, each sheet is a unique design created in a transfer process in which the artist is working hand in hand with the happenstance and mutability of nature. And truly, the best marbled designs reflect the watery dynamics of this craft. I have included in the succeeding pages a masterís gallery of marbled designs, ld and new, to fire your imagination and to show you exactly how many different directions you can take with this process.

Alum For preparing your fabric.
Carrageenan For making the jelly-like solution that the paints float on.
Methcel (Methocelulouse) Some books recommend that you use it instead of Carrageenan.
Oxgall Some books recommend it.
A large, flat, shallow, tray. Should be big enough to lay your fabric or shirt down flat onto the surface.
Straws, sticks, toothpicks, etc. To swirl colors around with.
Eye-droppers To apply the dye. One for each color.
Fabric Paints
A book :Some way to learn how to do it.


[1]Akers, RC. Marbling, Dryad Leaflet, Dryad Press, Leicester, 1st ed., 1976, 15 pp. (Photographs, procedures, tools and materials)
[2]Berry, Galen. Learn the Art of Marbling. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: self-published, 1991. 11 pages
[3] Bolton, Claire. The Compton Marbling Pattern Book., Winchester 1986. 48p
[4] Bolton, Claire with Davies, Katherine. Payhembury Marbled Papers. Winchester 1987. 48p
[5] Bolton, Claire. Maziarczyk Paste Papers. 1991, Oxford. 54pp
[6] Bolton, Claire. Compton Marbling Portfolio of Patterns. Oxford 1992. 19pp
[7] Chambers, Anne. The Practical Guide to Marbling Papers. London: Thanes & Hudson, 1986. 88 pages.
[8]Chambers, Anne. The Principal Antique Patterns of Marbled Papers. Burford, Oxfordshire: The Cygnet Press, 1984. 25 pages.
[9] Chambers, Anne. Suminagashi: The Japanese Art of Marbling. London: Thames & Hudson, 1991.
[10] Cockerell, D. Marbling Paper, Publ. Russell Bookcraft, Hitchin, Herts; Printed by Helfers Printers Ltd, Cambridge. (contains two samples of Cockrell paper patterns.)
[11] Cockerell, Sydney. Marbling Paper: Bookbinding as a School Subject. 3rd Ed., Hitchin, England: G.W. Russel & Son, n.d., 16 pages.
[12] Cohen, Daniel & Paula. Marbling on Fabric. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1990. 94 pages.
[13] Doizy, Marie Ange and Ipert, Stephane. Papier Marbre: son Histoire et sa Fabrication. Editions Technorama, 1985.
[14] Easton, Phoebe Jane. Marbling: A History and a Bibliography. Los Angeles: Dawson's Book Shop, 1983. 190 pages.
[15] Fox, Polly. Marbling on Fabric. Taos, New Mexico: Fresh Ink Press, 1990. 40 pages.
[16] Frigge, K. Marmeren Op Papier. Cantecleer bv, de Bilt, 1982. 47 pp.
[17] Stiff wrappers, color illustrations. Part of a series of craft books. ("Dit is een uitgave in de serie 'Werken en spelen".) It is a practical craft book, not an academic study, although various historical patterns are labelled. The color illustrations are wonderful and informative, whether one has knowledge of the language or not.
[18] Grunebaum, Gabriele. How to Marblize Paper. New York: Dover Publications, 1984. 31 pages.
[19] Guyot, Don. Suminagashi. An Introduction to Japanese Marbling. Seattle: The Brass Galley Press, 1988. 22 pages.
[20] Halfer, Josef. The Progress of the Marbling Art. Buffalo, New York: Louis Kinder, 1883. 243 pages. (Facsimile edition, Fresh Ink Press Taos, New Mexico, 1989.)
[21] Haemmerle, Albert. Buntpapier Herkommen Geschichte Techniken Beziehungen zur Kunst. Munchen: Verlag Georg D. W. Callwey, 1961. 251 pages.
[22] Heijbroek, J. F. and T. C. Greven. Sierpapier, Marmer-, Brocaat- en Sitspapier in Nederland. Amsterdam, De Buitenkant, 1994. 158 pages.
[23] Kantrowitz, Morris. The Process of Marbling Paper. Washington: GPO- PIA Joint Research Bulletin, Bindery Series No. 1, 1948. 10 pages.
[24] Loring, Rosamond. Decorated Book Papers: Being An Account of their Design and Fashions. Cambridge: Harvard College, 1942. 171 pages.
[25] Mauer, Diane Philippoff and Paul Maurer. An Introduction to Carrageen and Watercolor Marbling. Centre Hall, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1984. 24 pages.
[26] Diane Maurer. Making Paste Papers. Self-published, 1992. 3" x 4" hand bound accordion with paste paper covering and with tipped in paste paper samples
[27] Mauer, Diane Vogel with Paul Maurer. Marbling: A Complete Guide To Creating Beautiful Patterned Papers and Fabrics. New York: Crescent Books, 1991. 119 pages.
[28] Maurer-Mathison, Diane. Decoratve Paper. New York: BDD Illustrated Books, 1993. 120 pages.
[29] McKay, B (Ed.). Marbling - Methods and receipts from Four Centuries with other Instrcutions useful to Bookbinders. Plough Press Oxford and Oak Knoll Books Delaware, 1990, 85 pp, 18 paper samples. (Contains specimens of Halfers Marbling Inks, and marble papers by Don Guyot, Nedim Soemnez, Karli Frigge, Sarah Amatt, Geert van Daal, Katherine Davis and Iris Nevins.) ISBN 0 902813 13 7 (UK), 0 938768 21 2 (USA)
[30] Medeiros, Wendy Addison. Marbling Techniques. New York: Watson- Guptill Publications, 1994. 144 pages.
[31] Miura, Einen. The Art of Marbled Paper: Marbled Patterns and How To Make Them. New York: Kodansha International, 1990. 153 pages.
[32] Nevins, Iris. Fabric Marbling. Sussex, New Jersey: Self-published, 1989.
[33] Nevins, Iris. Traditional Marbling. 2nd ed. Sussex, New Jersey: Self-published, 1988. 35 pages.
[34] Nevins, Iris. 105 Helpful Hints for the Marbler. Sussex, New Jersey: Self-published, 1990. 25 pages.
[35] Nevins, Iris. Varieties of Spanish Marbling. 1991, 1993. Hardbound, 12 original tipped-in samples of Spanish Marbling First ed.Bird & Bull; current edition Nevins, Johnsonburg, NJ. 79 pages. Quilici, Piccarda. Carte Decorate nella Legatoria del '700 dalle Raccolte della Biblioteca Casanatense. Roma: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 1989. 281 pages. [36]Norma Rubovits. Marbled Vignettes. Dawson's Book Shop, Los Angeles. 1992. Printed letterpress by Patrick Reagh. The binding is designed by Norma Rubovits and bound by Ann Repp. The type is Monotype Bembo and the paper is Arches Text Wove. Regular edition of 100, 35 copies contained in a box with 5 matted examples of marbled vignettes
[37]Schleicher, Patty & Mimi. Experience the Magic of Marbling. Marbling Secrets and Recipes. Asheville, North Carlina: Ironwood Productions (Video demonstration of marbling), 1994.
[38]Schleicher, Patty & Mimi. Marbled Designs: A Complete Guide to Fifty- Five Elegant Patterns. Asheville, North Carolina: Lark Press, 1993. 144 pages.
[39] Schleicher, Patty. Oil Color Marbling. Weaverville, North Carolnia: Self-published, 1984. 8 pages.
[40] Sonmez, Nedim and Jackle-Sonmez, Yvonne. Ebru Turkish Marbled Paper. Tubingen: Verlag Jackle-Sonmez, 1987.
[41] Sumner, James. The Mysterious Marbler. North Hills, PA: Bird & Bull Press, 1976. [first published 1854, reprinted 1976 with additional contents] 68 pages.
[42] Taylor, Carol with Patty Schleicher, Mimi Schleicher, and Laura Sims. Marbling Paper & Fabric. New York: Sterling, 1991. 128 pages.
[43]Weiman, Christopher. Marbling in Miniature. Los Angeles: Dawson's Book Shop, 1980. 18 pages.
[44] Weimann, Ingrid and Nedim Sonmez. Christopher Weiman: (1946-1988) A Tribute. Tubingen, Germany: Jackle-Sonmez, 1991. 107 pages.
[45] Wolfe, Richard J. Marbled Paper its History, Techniques, and Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pensylvania Press, 1990. 245 pages.
[46] Woolnough, C.W. The Art of Marbling as Applied to Book Edges and Paper... with a brief notice of its recent application to textile fabrics. London: Alexander Heylin, 1853. 80 pages.
[47] Woolnough, Charles. The Whole Art of Marbling. 3rd. ed. London: George Bell & Sons, 1881. 82 pages.
[48] Yagi, Tokutaro. Suminagashi-zome. Ttranslated by Kyoko Muecke, with wood engravings by Rik Olson and 12 marbled samples by Robin Heyeck, printed letterpress on handmade paper and bound in marbled silk. The Heyeck Press, Woodside, California. For more information on this book: Robin Heyeck, The Heyeck Press, 25 Patrol Court, Woodside, CA 94062.