10 Jan 2016
Marbling is the art of creating designs on floating paint. The art of marbling goes back more than a thousand years. It was practiced in Central and East Asia as well as Europe. Marbled paper was used by medieval officials and bookbinders for both its beauty and ability to thwart forgery.
Early marblers kept their methods a closely guarded secret. Galen Berry is a modern-day master of the art whose website offers a wealth of history, information and eye candy.
The unique, complex effects of marbling are created with floating paint. Thinned acrylic paint is dripped on a viscous water-based “size” and manipulated with combs, sticks, and/or brushes into richly layered, colorful patterns. Only when the design is complete is it transferred to paper, fabric, or another medium.
The hard work of marbling is in the prep! The surface to be painted must be pre-soaked or coated with an alum solution and left to dry. Alum acts as a mordant that makes the paint stick on contact.
Meanwhile, the carageenan size on which the paint will float should be prepared 24 hours in advance (some marblers use methocel, but I haven’t tried it.) The size is poured into a watertight tray to a depth of about two inches. The tray must be big enough for the item to lie flat. Thinned acrylic paint may be used, but I use Jacquard marbling paints.
Once you’re set up, it’s all play! The size can be re-used for dozens of marbles, just drop a piece of paper on the leftover paint to start over with a clean “canvas.” In this example I’m making a silk handkerchief. We start with random drops of paint on the size.
For this design I’m going to rake (or comb) the paint. I make my own rakes by hot gluing nails on a wooden ruler. I’m starting with a 1.5″ rake, running it up the paint once, then down through the middle of the first line. This is the result.
Next, we’ll break out the 1/2″ rake. Starting at the long edge of my “feathers,” I pulled the fine rake down the paint once. Now it looks like this:
I like this pattern, so we’ll stop right here and grab our handkerchief. This is a 100% silk square that has been pre-soaked in alum, air dried, and pressed with a cool iron. I’ve carefully laid it in the paint, avoiding bubbles and wrinkles, and pressed lightly around the edges to paint the hem.
The paint sets on contact. The marbled silk should be rinsed in cool water and air dried for 24 hours. Iron face down on the lowest setting to set the paint, and we’re done!
This was raked with a fine comb and swirled with a paintbrush.
You can paint pictures with marbling, too! I did this flower on cotton.
There’s an element of unpredictability to marbling. Floating paint can move fast and doesn’t always go where you want it to go. That’s part of the fun! I made this dragon by accident.
Wood can also be marbled, like these beads:
Want to try your hand at marbling? Stay tuned, I’m putting a class together so others can get in on the fun!