|Hand marbled paper designs by Jemma Lewis in Wiltshire.|
To see more of Ms. Lewis' beautiful work, click here.
|Marbled paper designs by Leah of Art on Water in Ottawa.|
To see more of Leah's wonderful work, click here.
One of the joys of running our bindery is working with exquisitely handmade papers like those shown above. There are very few artists who choose to work in this medium in the traditional way, as it requires a great deal of study and practice to achieve results as exquisite and consistent as those pictured here. Each sheet of marbled paper is unique, and while it's made according to traditional patterns and methods, it bears the signature mark of its maker.
Marbled paper has a history as intricate and involved as its color patterns. According to Wikipedia, "墨流し suminagashi, which means "floating ink" in Japanese is the oldest method of decorative paper made with floating colors that is known today. Author Einen Miura states that the oldest reference to suminagashi papers are in the waka poems of Shigeharu, (825-880 CE)."
|A fan-shaped booklet of the Lotus Sutra, Vol. 8, 12th century Japan, with suminagashi decoration.|
As long ago as 986 CE, a process of aqueous surface printing was described in a Chinese compilation entitled 文房四谱 Wen Fang Si Pu or "Four Treasures of the Scholar's Study" edited by the 10th century scholar-official, 蘇易簡 Su Yijian (957-995 CE).
In the fifteenth century, artisans in Central Asia developed a technique of floating inks on the surface of a viscous liquid made using various plant materials. Workshops in Safavid Persia, Ottoman Turkey and the Mughal and Deccan Sultanates in India produced beautiful designs, but it's unknown whether these artisans were aware of the Chinese and Japanese techniques that preceded them.
|A verse from the Qur'an (14:7), written on marbled paper, consistent with other examples |
from around the16th century. Via Wikipedia.
Two hundred years later, Europeans travelled to Central Asia and collected examples of these papers and bound in books, forming alba amicorum, or books of friendship-- can you imagine how impressive it must have been for these lucky few to see and collect such beautiful papers? Eventually, the techniques for producing the beautiful marbled designs arrived in Europe, where they were produced for use in book covers and end papers, just as we use them today.
Tools of the trade: from l'Encyclopedie of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert. Vol. IV p. 275-6 (1768).
For me, the most interesting thing about these papers is their seemingly magical manufacture, so I invite you to enjoy these short videos, chronicling some very talented marbling artists from around the world. The first is a short history of the various techniques described above, and the following videos feature three very different but equally talented artists at work.