Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Paper Marbling

 In the studio we see lots of beautiful marbled and decorative papers used as endpapers and book covers, and so this week we decided to try out some paper marbling ourselves for fun and research, and also to make some festive gifts!

 There are many different techniques and materials that you can use to create a marbled style paper, for instance ‘oil marbling’ with oil paints and turpentine requires much less preparation, but we were keen for a fairly traditional result and so we used carrageen moss with acrylic paints.

 The moss acts as a size to help the colours float on the surface and to keep them from mixing together. We bought it in a powdered form for ease. It needs to be made up in advance in a blender and then left to sit for several hours, preferably overnight. The mixture requires one flat tablespoon of powdered moss to two litres of water, which is whizzed together bit by bit in the blender to produce a smooth, gloopy consistency. This is then poured into the tray to be used for marbling and left to sit to reduce the bubbles on the surface.

 Unfortunately we did not use alum, which acts as a mordant to set the paints to the paper. We had read that you don’t need to use it when working with acrylic paints, but this is definitely not the case. Alum is usually aluminium sulphate, which is mixed with water and sponged onto the papers before they are used. We have already ordered some in preparation for our next marbling session!


 We mixed the acrylic paints with water about 1:5, or until a good runny consistency was formed. Different colours were found to react in different ways, with some becoming far more dilute than others. These were then dropped onto the surface of the bath using pipettes or paint brushes to flick the paints, and then patterns were created using an awl and a ‘comb’ that we made with four nails protruding through a thick piece of board.

 Once happy with the pattern, the paper is placed down evenly on the surface of the water, being sure not to trap any air as this is prevents the paper from picking up the paints. The paper is removed from the bath, and if you have used alum to set the marbling to the paper, then the carrageen moss solution is washed off in a second tray of water or with a hose. Since we hadn’t used alum, we couldn’t follow this step as it completely washed off the paints! So the papers, complete with gloopy moss, were left to dry on blotting paper. The colours did bleed a bit, which was a shame, but we still managed to produce some lovely patterns.

 The surface needs to be cleared of remaining paint between each marbling session, for which we used a piece of board just narrower than the width of the tray to scrape the surface clean. It’s really handy to have tissues around as it can get a bit messy!

 Using coloured papers create a great background colour for patterns, and change the appearance of the acrylic colours in surprising ways. We had a metallic bronze paint which became a firm favourite, featuring in nearly all of the attempts, and looked particularly great with black paper for a base.

 It was a great first attempt, and next time alum will definitely be used to save us from watching the colours of our fine creations bleed between each other! The papers made were put to good use, and have now become festive notebooks and bookmarks.

To marble paper in this way you will need:

Carrageen moss (we used powdered)
Acrylic paints
Alum (aluminium sulphate)
Paper (colourful and white can create great results)
A blender
A sponge to apply the alum
A tray to marble in
A second tray to wash the paper
A comb (or something pointy like an awl or a needle)
Pipettes or brushes
A piece of board to clear the surface of the tray
Newspapers or plastic sheeting to protect surfaces

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