Saturday, 24 March 2012


The most vital substance in marbling is Ox-gall. It is the bile juice of an ox, but the bile of any animal can be used ( even fish-bile)
  Yes, it sounds absolubely Disgusing,  but it really is not . It is just a fluid, ranging from dark brown to near colourless , which sometimes smells bitter.

The gall's effect is twofold
I) it makes the colours spread. The more gall is added, the more it spreads.
II the gall has this wonderous property , that is, no matter how much the colours are manupulated on the size, they would not mix.
 For example, if you drop on yellow, and then blue, the colours would stay seperate. if you take a stylus, and draw it through them, they would still remain distinct.

The primary principal regarding gall is this. More gall makes the colours spread more, but also makes them paler. Each sucessive colour applied needs more gall than the last. (however, some colours may need more gall than others.  )

 The gall also differs in strength. In my experience, the darker sort is generally stronger.What one type of gall does with a tablespoon , another can do with six drops.

The gall that us sold in art shops is passable, But some is so weak as to be of no use at all. Therefore, if you have tried all kinds of gall, and none work satisfactorily, order some from a marbling suppler, like Iris nevins or Colophon

If you are so daring as to attempt to obtain the gall "fresh from the cow", I shall give you some instructions .

Take the gallbladders of any animal, preferably a cow/ox. they may be bought from a butcher, or slaughterhouse. the cost for them is slight, if not nonexistent, as the gall is considered waste. The baldders MUST have the fluid within them- this is the gall that we want

Now, puncture the galls, and let them drain into a vessel. Add to this alcohol, about a quarter of it's volume. let the fatty matter settle from it, and then strain it. After a bit of ageing [ if you wish to do so]  it may be used.

I have successfully prepared the gall of chickens in this manner, but the gall was a bright green in colour!

There are alternatives to gall. However, they are mostly an apolology to the real stuff.

 The first of them is photographic wetting agent. It is primarlay used on acrylics, as the stuff that comes from the cow is too weak. The sollution is used watered down, as it is too strong neat. In my experience, ( using it with watercolours) it is quite unpredictable, and difficult to control. The colours sometimes spread out uncontrolabaly, or fail to spread altogether.

The second class are preparations of soap. They have generally included washing up detergent, and solutions of soap. Their expanding power is often stronger than gall, but it comes at a price. Firstly, the colours tend to have fuzzy edges if you use too much of it.
The second is rather curious. The colours, when mixed with a large amount of the solution, tend to go all stringy and goopy after a while.

The solution ( which I shall discuss in greater deatil under "italian" ) is made by dissolving soap in water , sometimes with a quantuty of alcohol added.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The size- other materials

Dried carregean-
  Before the advent of the extract, marblers had to use the genuine , dried carregean moss/algae. it looks like a dried seaweed, brown in colour, and smelling somewhat of the sea.
***** ingredients*****
25 grmas of dried carregean moss (NOT the extract, which is in the form of a powder)
1 tablespoon of borax
I litre of water.

**** Instructions****
1- put the ingredients into a pot  , and heat them over a medium gas flame
2- let it boil for about half an hour. the water should thicken and turn brown.If the mix is thickening well, the bubbles in it should be fine and foamy. if it froths up voilently, or thickens to a syrupy consistency, add some water.
3- once it has reached the appopriate consistencey, let it cool down to room temprature for about 12 hours. Always remember, it is better to make a over-thick size, as you can thin it down, than an overly thin one.
If you so happen to have made an overly thin size, the only cure is to add some thicker size to it

Gum tragacanth-
 The standard marbling size from the begining of marbling to the 19thc. , when carregean was introduced, and still used today in Turkey for ebru , it is a gum extracted form a species of tree.
The size is made thus......
   Procure a large earthen pan, glazed on the inside, capable of holding fron 8 to 12 gallons. put therin about 1 pound of gum tragacanth, and pour upon it about 2 gallons of soft  water. the next morning, stir it well with a birch broom for about 5 minutes; repeat this at  intervals of three or four hours a day, adding more water as it thickens, or absorbs that which was first put to it. in 48 hours, you may first venture to make use of it, though 72 hours would be betterm and I have found some gum which has worked all the better when remainding a week in sollution. [ ......] when your gum is properly dissolved, you must gradgually dilute it with water till it is brought to the proper consistency , whan it must be starined through a hair or muslin sieve.
                         C. W. Woolnough- the whole art of marbling ( 2nd edition, 1881)

Fleaseed/ Psyllium
This material, which is more famous as a digestive aid,  coame in the form of little seeds, which were placed in hot water to extract the mucilage.
Woolnough tells us that the size was made by taking a quarter of a pound of the seed, and pouring on it a gallon of boiling water, and stirring the result fro 10 minutes. Half an hour later, another gallon of boiling water was added, and stirring the mixture occasionaly. The thus thickened liquid, when cooled, was the size.

Woolnough also recomended that this material be mixed into the gum tragacanth for patterns that did not require to be combed or manupulated. like, the shell, spanish, italian, &c. , in a proportion of 1  quart of 1 quart of the fleaseed, to 2 gallons of the latter.


Another one from the health-food store! . This size is prepared in a similar manner to the fleaseed, but in a proportion of 6 tablesoppons of the seed to about a liter of Hot water, which is then heated in a slow cooker. The arrival of the mucilage  is announced when the seeds start sinking, then the water growing cloudy. Once that is done, let it cool

The size has never been in wide use, as the mucliage turns watery after about a day. furtehrmore, the size is very thick, and only very simple patterns may be made on it.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The size - carrageen

The size in the body of fluid that the marbling colours are floated on . It is of a consistency thicker than water, but not too thick. A consistency like that of cooking oil, or olive oil is ideal.  Several sizes were formerly used. However, only one size is used today, by almost all professionals, carrageen moss. 
Carrageen, or Irish moss, is a type of red alga, which releases a sort of jelly-like thing called mulicage when boiled in water.  Now, it used to be prepared by taking the dried moss, and boiling it for up to half an hour with borax and hot water.The  modern marbler need not suffer this, as a extract of carrageen moss is readily avalible. 
To make the size, take ......
1 ounce of the extract, 
1 quart of hot water. 
There are 2 ways of proceeding from hence. 
The more common method involves whirring the ingredinents iin a blender, and the resulting foamy mess is then left to settle overnight .
The second method involves taking the ingredients, and whisking them in a bowl till all the extract is dissolved. In either case, the sollution is left to cool and diluted, till the desired concictency, as it is often found to be too thick . 
The amount of size that you make must be enough to fill your through to a deph of at least three fingers. 
Other sizes were ( and sometimes are) also used, and they will be covered in a subsequent post.

Sunday, 11 March 2012


Since life is a difficult and thorny path
Where toil is the portion of man
We all should endeavour while passing along
To make it as smooth as we can
(On title page of “the mysterious marbler”, one of the early books on marbling)

A great hinderance to marbler today is the lack of information. Aldough literature on the subject today is quite stupendous, There is not one single full-length text on the traditional process of marbling online today.The information on this subject is mainly dispersed in little snippets here and there.  The few manuals that do exist, are very outdated, often centuries old, and even they themselves are parts of larger works on bookbinding.
So , what is marbling?
In it's broadest sense, marbling is the process of decorating paper , cloth and  with a design produced by floating colours on a liquid.
It woud be perhaps of interest here to give a little history here.
It is agreed that the most primitive form of this art is a japanese craft called suminagashi , in which inks mixed with pine-resin are floated on water, and occasionaly swirled around to produce a design
However, a more direct ancestor to the process we are concerned with here originated somewehere in The Ottoman   empire. it later spread to Turkey, where it is known ( and still practiced ) as ebru. The principle remained the same, but the water was thickened with a substance called gum tragacanth. This allowed the colours to be manupulated into more complex designs. The inks were also replaced by gouaches or watercolours mixed with a dispersant ( usually ox-bile) .
The process above was used
The above process,  was used ineurope till the mid 19thc, where a Hugarain, Josef halfer, discovered that carrageenan produced superior results to the gum. The process has changed very little since, excepting the introduction of acrylic colours .
The acrylilc colours have enabled the production of marbled cloth viable for the first time, and the fact that they are waterproof. Unfortunately, acrylics cannot produce some types of marbled paper, so you win some, and lose some.

Enough already! let us start!!!