There are several methods for making marbled papers. [link]
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- A shallow tray is filled with water, and various kinds of ink or paint colors are carefully applied to the surface with an ink brush.
- Various additives or surfactant chemicals are used to help float the colors.
- A drop of "negative" color made of plain water with the addition of surfactant is used to drive the drop of color into a ring.
- The process is repeated until the surface of the water is covered with concentric rings.
- The floating colors are then carefully manipulated either by blowing on them directly or through a straw, fanning the colors, or carefully using a human hair to stir the colors.
In the 19th century, the Kyoto master Tokutaro Yagi developed a method for using a split piece of bamboo to gently stir the colors, resulting in concentric spiral designs.
Finally, a sheet of washi paper is carefully laid onto the water surface to capture the floating design. The paper, which is often made of kozo (Paper Mulberry or Broussonetia papyrifera), must be unsized, and strong enough to withstand being immersed in water without tearing.
Another method of marbling more familiar to Europeans and Americans is made on the surface of a viscous mucilage, known as size or sizing in English. This method is commonly referred to as "Turkish" marbling, although ethnic Turkic peoples were not the only practitioners of the art, as Persian Tajiks and people of Indian origin also made these papers. The term "Turkish" was most likely used as a reference to the fact that many Europeans first encountered the art in Istanbul.
Historic forms of marbling used both organic and inorganic pigments mixed with water for colors, and sizes were traditionally made from gum tragacanth (Astragalus spp.), gum karaya, guar gum, fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), fleabane, linseed, and psyllium. Since the late 19th century, a boiled extract of the carrageenan-rich alga known as Irish moss (Chondrus crispus), has been employed for sizing. Today, many marblers use powdered carrageenan extracted from various seaweeds. Another plant-derived mucilage is made from sodium alginate. In recent years, a synthetic size made from hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, a common ingredient in instant wallpaper paste, is often used as a size for floating acrylic and oil paints.
In the sized-based method, colors made from pigments are mixed with a surfactant such as ox gall. Sometimes, oil or turpentine may be added to a color,to achieve special effects. The colors are then spattered or dropped onto the size, one color after another, until there is a dense pattern of several colors. Straw from the broom corn was used to make a kind of whisk for sprinkling the paint, or horsehair to create a kind of drop-brush. Each successive layer of pigment spreads slightly less than the last, and the colors may require additional surfactant to float and uniformly expand. Once the colors are laid down, various tools and implements such as rakes, combs and styluses are often used in a series of movements to create more intricate designs.
Paper or cloth, is often mordanted beforehand with aluminium sulfate (alum) and gently laid onto the floating colors (although methods such as Turkish ebru and Japanese suminagashi do not require mordanting). The colors are thereby transferred and adhered to the surface of the paper or material. The paper or material is then carefully lifted off the size, and hung up to dry. Some marblers gently drag the paper over a rod to draw off the excess size. If necessary, excess bleeding colors and sizing can be rinsed off, and then the paper or fabric is allowed to dry. After the print is made, any color residues remaining on the size are carefully skimmed off of the surface, in order to clear it before starting a new pattern.
Contemporary marblers employ a variety of modern materials, some in place of or in combination with the more traditional ones. A wide variety of colors are used today in place of the historic pigment colors. Plastic broom straw can be used instead of broom corn, as well as bamboo sticks, plastic pipettes, and eye droppers to drop the colors on the surface of the size. Ox gall is still commonly used as a surfactant for watercolors and gouache, but synthetic surfactants are used in conjunction with acrylic, PVA, and oil-based paints.