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News Paper Marbling: Exploring Traditional Patterns and Techniques

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Destiny Howell-Conkey tries her hand at a French curl pattern laid over a chevron - with great success!​

​​​​​​​​​​From a  post by book and paper conservator and WUDPAC Affiliated Faculty Melissa Tedone on her b(ook)log:

According to book history scholar Richard Wolfe, “Few people today are aware of the considerable role that marbled paper played in the everyday life of Europe and the Western world from late in the seventeenth century until late in the nineteenth. And even fewer – mainly those who work in or have had a great deal of contact with large research libraries or the antiquarian book trade – are in a position to appreciate the enormous contribution that marbling has made to the overall history of the book” (Wolfe 1). The creation of marbled paper long predates its role in Europe and the West. The art of suminagashi (“floating ink”) was practiced in Japan from at least the 10th century. Ebru, the Turkish art of marbling paper using pigments floated on a thickened gum bath, emerged sometime in the 15th century before eventually migrating to Europe. ​These decorated paper were prized as art and also used extensively in bookbinding, both as endpapers and as a covering material. ​

​At the University of Delaware, an important part of teaching art conservation is the development of connoisseurship skills, and a key component of building these skills involves exposing students to traditional methods of art creation and craft.

​Paper marbling with University of Delaware colors, of course!

​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 nonpareilpeacock, 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.​

Marbled papers drying on a rack.

Still others spoke of their surprise that marbling was a monoprint process, and that every hand-pulled sheet was unique. Seeing the students in action and listening to them share their ideas and revelations was a powerful reminder that the most successful learning involves creativity, experimentation, collaboration, and enjoyment – all key components of the Art Conservation Department curriculum at UD. 

To find resources and view images and video clips of students working with French curl, chevron, and Spanish wave patterns, visit Melissa's blog here​.

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An important part of teaching art conservation is the development of connoisseurship skills, and a key component is exposure to traditional methods of art creation and craft.

An important part of teaching art conservation is the development of connoisseurship skills, and a key component is exposure to traditional methods of art creation and craft.

11/10/2016
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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489
  • art-conservation@udel.edu