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My First Attempt at Marbling Paper

I like the marbled paper you see inside the cover of old books. I've repaired some old books and done some simple bookbinding. My wife had done some marbling when she was a costume designer, and we saw marbling supplies in a catalog we both look at. We have a copy of Gabriele Grunebaum's How to Marbleize Paper. My wife surprised me with a Christmas present of a marbling kit back in 2005. Intended to try it right away, but finally got around to it on April 8, 2007.

The kit is from Jacquard Products and contains 6 colors of paint, alum for mordant, methocel for sizing, and an instruction sheet that is minimal but adequate. I had already had looked at book about marbling, so I knew the basic idea. The kit did not contain a dispersive agent, but I found the colors I used, except black, dispersed more than I wanted anyway.

I had read the instructions the day before I started and re-read them Sunday morning. I decided to document the process with photographs.

First I cleaned up the work area, which is a wooden shelf with a small sink outside:

work areawork area

In my next attemp I'll lay down some clean paper to work on too, because I found the wet paper picked up dirt (tiny bits of wood) easily.

Here are pictures of the kit:

kitlaid out kit

Here I have laid out the paper to spray with mordant. I used a good quality, acid-free, 26 lb paper suitable to incorporating into nice books, but I think this would be an easier process with a heavier paper. Also, the paints bled through this paper, which may or may not matter, depending on the intended use.

mordant stage

I made up the alum mordant in a spray bottle. Even with hot water it took quite a bit of shaking to get it all to disolve. If you don't disolve it all it can clog your spray tip. I think I over-sprayed. Next time I'll follow the instructions better: spray lightly, then run another piece of paper to even out and blot up. My paper wrinkled badly when it dried, so I pressed it under some heavy books.

I made up the methocelulose-based sizing in a quart jar. For the actual marbling work I used the old cookie pan. I decided to go with a design based on one we used at St. Orr's Restaurant to decorate cold soups. The principle is the same. I used a thin twig of bamboo to do the pattern. That was not as interesting as I had hoped, so I just started playing. One thing that is quickly apparent is that control is difficult. The paint moves around in ways that are unexpected, at least for a novice. But who cares. Here is my first result:

first try

And here is what the paint looked like in the pan for my second try, and the resulting marbled paper:

paint in pan2nd marbled paper

If you look at the two pictures, you will realize what you get depends a lot on where you lay the paper down.

Give it a try. You might not get a perfect pattern of the type you like when you make your early attempts, but part of the fun is the chaotic nature of the process itself. I suspect that no two pieces of hand-marbled paper or fabric are exactly alike.

Now I'll plan a more interesting pattern that might actually be used for a pamplet cover or inside of a bound book!

2nd Try Comes Out Much Better!