On Wednesday, I was delighted to teach a workshop on paper marbling to [UD Assistant Professor] Brian Baade’s undergraduate art conservation students at UD as part of his course “Studio in the Materials and Techniques of Drawing in the West.”
Given the educational objectives of the course, I focused the workshop on the creation of traditional paper marbling patterns popular in Europe and the United States in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. We also discussed the challenges of researching and learning historical paper marbling patterns, since there is no single, agreed-upon lexicon for describing the patterns.
Brian mixed up two bath solutions for us – one boiled from Irish moss (carrageenan) in the traditional method, and the other a more modern version mixed from commercially available carrageenan powder. He also had both traditional ox gall and a modern, synthetic surfactant available for mixing colors. We used Golden acrylics – another modern material, and one without handling hazards – for the colors themselves, since this workshop was an initial introduction to marbling, and we wanted to ensure a successful experience for the students.
The students had a great time experimenting with color and trying their hands at traditional patterns such as nonpareil, peacock, and French curl. I was impressed by their work, and enjoyed watching their process. Two students learned the hard way that adding surfactant directly to the bath would disturb the delicate surface tension that allows the marbling colors to float on the surface. Other students speculated on reasons for the behavior of the different colors, and experimented with adding more or less water and more or less surfactant to each color.