Marbling, at its core, is a simple technique--drop any ink or paint that floats onto a water bath, then lay an absorbant paper or fabric on the water’s surface to take a print.

From recently recovered manuscripts, it seems clear that the phenomenon was known in China rather early on, though just when seems less clear.  But, if the tradition that Buddhist monks traveling through China on their way to Japan discovered and took it with them to the island is true, its invention can be placed some time between the 6th and 9th centuries, depending on which wave of traveling monks learned of it.

Shown and discussed below are several varieties of the art form,

from traditional to modern, together with several ways in which I use it in my work.

Marbling with watercolors rose to an art form in the Middle East (modern Turkey) in the 15th century.  Earlier versions of the process used inks that naturally float on water and bond readily to thinner, plant-based papers.  Watercolor pigment required finding a suitable surfactant and mordants to achieve these same effects. What resulted were papers of intricate swirling patterns in vivid colors that soon captivated Europe and remain to this day a staple of bookbinders around the world. Color combinations that enhance leather are

among my specialties.

The Japanese style marbling known as a (floating ink) predates the Turkish version by some five centuries. It was not at first done for decoration, but as a Buddhist meditative exercise capturing in visual form a moment in time when Nature (in the form of water and air currents) bonds with  human spirit (chi, energy and breath or physical movement).














with Inks

Turkish-Style Marbling

with Acrylics

In addition to the psychic benefits of doing suminagashi

for its own sake, I find that its patterns often produce perfect

restful grounds for lettering, photography, against leather, in bindings, and so much more.  Here, I played with a packet of scraps left over from other projects for a collage. 

Late in the 20th century, marblers began experimenting with more modern inks and paints. The pattern here is a traditional Moiré in which both paper folding and paper delivery techniques contribute to the final result.  Turkish in that respect, the resulting effect also resembles Japanese marbling in using only black and an ink that floats naturally on water rather than watercolor.

Another traditional Turkish pattern rich with depth is known as Spanish.  Said to be the accidental creation of a hungover worker whose boss, seeing its potential, was wise enough to not censure, Spanish relies on the way the paper is laid on the bath in printing. “Open” spaces within the color droplets are created by making the final color more active.  This piece represents another crossover, in using acrylics rather than watercolors.

©ann alaia woods 2008