Make Mine Marbled!

When I was in Shelburne, I remember attending a demonstration about paper marbling. I was utterly fascinated as I watched the artisan deftly fleck droplets of color from a brush onto still water, then effortlessly create swirling patterns with a comb. Imagine my delight then, when I went to my printmaking class on Tuesday, and discovered that we would be doing a session on marbling. Even with a bad chest cold, I couldn't help but be excited.

The technique we learned was based on sumigashi, which was developed in  Japan. I'm sure what we learned wasn't strictly traditional, but it was fun and easy.

First we started by taking some water and adding Methocel and ammonia (I can't remember the ratios, but you can look it up easily enough), a thickener that gives the water greater viscosity and prevents the ink from sinking to the bottom. After 30 minutes, the thickened water was poured into trays, like so:

With the water thickened, it was time to add the ink, one drop at a time. The ink spreads once it hits the water, and you can layer different colors over one another to create bull's eyes and other patterns. There are special sumigashi inks you can buy, but I also found that some of my Akua monotype inks worked pretty well too, particularly the blue.

Once you've added the ink, you can either leave it, or swirl the water with a pointed tool such as a skewer or fork to create new patterns, as I'd done.

Once you're content with the design, take a piece of paper and lay it on top of the water. Tap it gently, then lift it up from the tray.

Voila! Marbled paper that's ready for bookmarks, prints, anything you fancy. After a couple of minutes you should rinse off the methocel slime, which will cause the uppermost layer of ink to wash off, but don't worry, your marbling will only faded ever so slightly.

Marbling reminds me of monotyping in several ways. It provides a quick jolt of color to the system, and encourages spontaneity in a way that relief printing or even intaglio doesn't.

I definitely enjoyed the process, as you can see from the number of pieces I made.

Here are a few of them in greater detail. Some of them became a little faded after I rinsed them, but they're still fun to look at.

I had no specific goal in mind when I made these; I was simply investigating the variety that I could achieve. Some of the pieces I made are fairly bold in color and pattern, but I also tried making pieces with more subtle palettes with the intention of going back later and printing a drypoint over them. Needless to day, marbling is a great new technique for my arsenal, and I definitely plan on using it in the future.