Friday, March 8, 2013

Marbled paper: Process

I just made marbled paper for the first time! This one of my favorite results from my first attempt (using mixed media paper with alum). I used a small nail to create the lines.

I recently saw this post by Lynda at Bloom, Bake & Create on Marbling Fabric. I think her colors are just lovely. Of course I had to try it. I ordered some carrageenan, alum (aluminum sulfate) and ox gall. I was looking at information on alum and worried about possible deterioration (rotting) of the fabrics prepared with alum. That's a bit disturbing... I did find this article about use of alum in papermaking over the centuries, and limited proof that use of alum in marbleing has any significant negative effect on the paper over time. Not that I plan on the papers I make lasting for centuries. I suppose it's just the IDEA of it that's bothersome. Anyway, alum concerns aside, I pushed onward. I followed Lynda's instructions to make the carrageenan mix in a blender and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. I added 1 tablespoon of powdered carrageenan to 4 cups warm distilled water and blended for two minutes, then poured it into the marbling tray (a rectangle plastic container) and put it in the refrigerator.

To prepare the mordant (alum) about an hour before marbling, I added 1/2 tablespoon of alum to 1 cup of warm water and stirred until dissolved. I used a sponge to wet the paper on one side with the alum/water solution, then allowed to dry and flattened under a tray in between some newsprint. I used less alum than the instructions said because I was worried about the rotting effects of the alum. Next time I'm just going to add the amount it called for. I think that affected the paint's ability to adhere to the paper.

I used a bunch of different kinds of paper, including a cheap mixed media paper from Michaels; printer paper; Arches 140lb hotpress; graph paper; basic blank newsprint; basic sketch paper; and another thicker paper (fine watercolor paper) like the Arches watercolor paper (but I don't remember the brand). I also put alum on some of the pages, 1/2 diluted amount on some other pages, and no alum on others, to see what would happen.

This is the first one I made. I don't like the shapes and there is a lot of white space (the paints did not spread completely) but the colors are the most dense of any of the papers. I did start diluting more and more throughout the process, to try and get the colors to spread more. This is Arches hotpress 140lb with alum.
This one also had fairly dense coloring. It's mixed media paper with 1/2 the amount of alum, and it was early on in the process. I'm wondering if I dirtied the size because of all the paint I was throwing in there. Maybe that affected the ability of the size to float the paints.
Here is one that resulted from using airbrush color (Golden, transparent airbrush color, Phthalo Blue -Green Shade). The result was different from the rest because the airbrush color pushed the rest of the paint out of the way. That was the effect I was interested in. This was on newsprint with no alum and it was toward the end of the process so the paint in the 'veins' did not adhere well to the paper. Most of the paint came off during the rinse (I rinsed every piece to remove the excess size from the paper - in some cases a lot of ink came off in the rinse, but I don't know how to avoid doing a rinse since I don't want the carrageenan to dry to the papers).
Look how gorgeous the size was toward the end. It's from all the excess paint in there. I really overdid it on the paint. That's because the eyedroppers I ordered didn't arrive yet so I was just spooning the paint on by the end. Way too much.
Here's another picture of the size with paint floating on it. You can see the swirls I made with a small nail. I couldn't be bothered to make a 'proper' tool just yet. Primarily I was interested in making the 'stones' of the Turkish pattern like the blue ones that resulted by using the airbrush color. But I couldn't help but try some swirls as well.
That was fun and I'll definitely be making a comb and other tools. There are some tutorials on the internet for making your own marbling tools using common household items. I did find a few small straws yesterday so I'll use them the next time around. By then my eyedroppers should have arrived. Hopefully that will address the issue of all that excess paint suspended in the size and floating on the bottom. By the way, when I poured out the size to rinse the container, there was a ton of wonderfully layered beautiful paint on the bottom that I pressed some newsprint strips into. It created some lovely impressions. Next time I'll do it with some better paper that's had alum applied to it.

Mixed media with alum:
Mixed media with alum (but prepared immediately before using, so the paper didn't have time to absorb the alum). Not sure what the white spots are from.
I mixed several drops of ox gall into each little container of paint. Throughout the process I became more and more generous with the ox gall. The first few passes I only used one drop per bit of paint. Over time I began to increase the dilution (with water) of the paint and increase the amount of ox gall I was adding (3-4 drops). Keep in mind I was only using 4-6 drops of fluid acrylic each time I would prepare a little bit of paint. It's still something to experiment with.

Here are a few more from the first batch. This one is just lovely, in my opinion. It's on mixed media with no alum. It's fairly obvious what the affect of no alum is to the paper - the paint doesn't bind well in the form of the lifted pattern. But look how pretty it is. So this is my nod to the idea that while there may be a 'right way' to do something if you want a certain effect, there really is no 'wrong way' to do something in art because you may enjoy the unexpected result of the 'wrong way' just as much!
Sketch paper, no alum (also really lovely, especially the magenta color and the 'clouds' of pale yellow in the below left corner):
Sketch paper, 1/2 amount of alum (you can also see where the paper did not lay entirely on the size, which gives me an interesting idea for creating partial pulls on papers with text or other illustrations):
Here is another one with the airbrush color. I like the colorful veins on this one but the blue color is still too dilute for my tastes. I need to find a way to make the color more intense. This one was also on newsprint.
The colors in this one are lovely and delicate. This is sketch paper with alum.
This is the other (mystery) watercolor paper with alum.
In sum, I really was just throwing down every color (8-10) for the most part without much coordination. I love all the colors, and when in doubt or experimenting I like to use all of them. I'd like to see a better intensity/vibrancy the next time, and I want to experiment with different designs in the paint. I also tried it using a few pieces of fabric without much success, due mostly to the fact that I was too lazy to pre-wash the fabrics as was recommended to remove any existing size. I did treat with alum, but when I pulled the fabric up off the carrageenan size, the paint was beading on the surface, due to the existing size in the fabric. I will try again. I don't plan to use marbled fabrics in quilting but could add them to a collage or make a small wall-hanging.

Additional resources: Here are some examples of different marbled paper patterns from the University of Washington library. Some of them are gorgeous. I particularly like the vintage 19th century marbled papers in the Turkish pattern. Some even have lovely gold leaf overprinting.

The Golden Paints website has some good points about testing paints for spreading speed. The Daniel Smith website also has some good points and some photos. They sell carrageenan, alum and ox gall.

Lessons learned: Use more alum. Try papers with more exposed fiber (I got some Japanese papers to try). Don't use so much paint (most of it went to the bottom of the size). Put the marbling tray closer to the sink (minimize number of drips to clean up). Lay out more drying areas in advance (this became critical about halfway through and had me daydreaming for the next few days about my fantasy studio layout to include a wet-working area with a huge industrial sink and counters and hanging area to clip and dry works, plus huge windows that look out onto a beautiful garden...


  1. Leah, great post! I'm off to read your new one on marbling.

  2. Oh wow Leah- that's super cool! I just love the colors! My favorite is the last picture of the tray- all the colts swirled together!