"The Art of Ebru Paper Marbling"

Terms & Glossary
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Learning about and researching historical marbling patterns can be fascinating, but difficult, because there is no single, agreed upon lexicon for describing the patterns. In addition, words describing the techniques and methods (including types of materials, pigments, and formulae of the size solutions) have often been translated to English inconsistently.

Alum: Ebru paper can be treated with a solution (often containing aluminum sulfate) before paints are transferred. This coating acts as a color binder (mordant) for fixing the colors to the paper. In addition, some artists find that the colors are sharper and brighter when alum is used.

Awl: A tool made of nails, or needles of various size and thickness. An awl can be used (just as a stylus), for dropping and shaping Ebru colors that float on the surface of the size.

Bath: The water-based viscous solution known as size, makes-up the bath (which is contained in a tray or tub) upon which the paint is applied. Often the aqueous solution must rest for 1 or 2 days before it can be used, and may need to be filtered. The consistency of the size depends on the type of marbling.

Broomstraw: Strands of broomstraw made into a whisk, or tied in a bundle, can be used to carefully sprinkle small drops of paint (similar to a drop-brush method, but without splattering the paint).

Brush: Hand-made brushes of  course horse hair bound to a straight rose branch are used.

Carrageenan: Commonly called "Irish moss," is a seaweed that provides gelatinous substance that is used for the marble bath to float the paints upon. It is a species of red algae which grows along the rocky parts of the Atlantic coast of the British Isles, continental Europe, and North America. 

Comb: A tool, often made of pins, needles, nails or wire, that is used to create patterns, usually with a wide-spaced comb, or a narrow-spaced comb. The size of intervals the comb's teeth are set in can vary, with greater spacing found on a rake. Combs are usually drawn through the bath horizontally and/or vertically. Examples

Decoupage: A technique where small sections, or bits, of marbled paper are mounted on a surface.

Dispersant: A substance that is used to disperse the paint, such as ox-gall. Also called a surfactant.

Double Marble: This is when a sheet is marbled again on the same side after it has dried. (In the "Overprint method," a lithographic process is used upon a marbled paper, which might be a print).  

Ebru Definition: Paper marbling art, known as Ebru, began in Turkey in the15th century. The Turkish stone pattern is the oldest of Western marbled patterns and dates back to as early as the middle part of the 15th century. The word "Ebru" is either derived from the Persian "Ebru" meaning cloud (or "Abru" meaning water surface), or from a Turkic word related to abreh, meaning "colorful" or "variegated." Ebru was translated by the German Orientalist Prof. Annemarie Schimmel to mean "clouded paper." See Western Discovery of Ebru

Ebru Process: Natural compounds are mixed with water and paint to create the viscosity needed for the paint to float upon the size. Patterns and designs can then be created by the artist by manipulating water using various techniques, tools and dispersants. The paint is then carefully transferred to absorbent paper.

Kitre: Turkish word for size, the thickened water solution. 

Marbling: Paper marbling is a method of aqueous surface design which produces patterns similar to marble or other types of stone. The patterns are the result of paints that are floated on a viscous solution known as size, and then carefully transferred to an absorbent surface. Dust, air pockets, temperature and humidity, improperly mixed colors, and the mineral content of water are all factors that can have an impact on the marbling process.

Marbleizing: Also called "faux marbling," is the preparation and finishing of a surface to imitate the appearance of polished marble. It is often used in buildings where the cost or weight of genuine marble would be prohibitive, and can be seen on walls, columns, decorative areas, and flooring. 

Master Ebru Artists: The 16th century Ebru artist, Şebek Mehmed Efendi, is one of the best known Ebru artists. Şeyh Sadık Efendi from Buhara, who was the head of the Uzbek Lodge in Üsküdar, is also a famous Ebru artist who taught his son Ibrahim Edhem Efendi (who later became head of the Sufi-associated lodge). İbrahim Edhem Efendi taught his apprentice Mehmed Necmettin Okyay (1883-1976) who became an accomplished calligrapher, gilder and bookbinder. Mehmet Efendi, who was an orator at the Hagia Sophia, is famous for developing a new style of floral marbling, subsequently called the Orator or Preacher pattern (Hatip ebrusu). One of his well-known students was Mustafa Düzgünman. Unfortunately, throughout the centuries works have not been signed, therefore it is not possible to identify the great marblers who have contributed to the evolution of Ebru.

Mordant: A coating (alum) that acts as a color binder. This fixative is sponged onto the surface of paper to be marbled to prevent bleeding or running of colors in the rinsing process.

Orientalist: An Orientalist is a scholar engaged in the academic field of study that embraces Near Eastern and Far Eastern societies and cultures, languages, peoples, history and archaeology (also known as Oriental Studies, Asian Studies, or Middle Eastern Studies). The term Orientalism is used in art history to refer to a 19th century artistic style in which Western impressions of the Eastern world had on impact on the development of Western artists and art.

Ox-gall (öd): Allows the paint to disperse over water due to the acids that provide tension within the paint so that the paint does not sink. Once the dispersing agent is added, the paint can overcome the surface tension of the carrageen size and facilitate spreading. Ebru artists often test the consistency of the paint before beginning their works, and at regular intervals stir the paint and ox-gall mixture.

Paints: Usually are made of natural earth pigments which are crushed with a special pestle on a marble slab (the pestle for grinding is called a desteseng). Each color the artists plans to use, usually has its own paintbrush. Today, various watercolors, inks, acrylics and oil-based paints are also used. These materials can be found in art supplies stores, however, many Ebru artists make their own brushes, tools, combs, size and paints.

Paper: A sheet of highly absorbent paper must be used, and have a matt side (little to no sizing, non-coated). It should be only moderately thick in weight, and the size of the paper must be a little smaller than the size of the marbling tray. Starting with one corner, this sheet is carefully rolled down onto the size so that no bubbles are trapped, or random motion disturbs the bath. Many artists use handmade paper, in addition to durable archival acid-free paper.

Pipette: A tool often used for dropping ox-gall, water or turpentine (neft) slowly.

Press: In order to exert weight to flatten the paper, a type of press, or tool is frequently used.

Rake: Similar to the comb, this tool is made with pins, needles or nails, however, they are more spread out (the "double rake" consists of 2 rows of teeth that are slightly off-set). Rakes are usually drawn through the bath horizontally and/or vertically. Examples

Rack: Used for horizontally drying the finished artwork. As an alternative, the Ebru can be hung vertically by two corners to dry.

Seaweed: Carrageenan is frequently used to create the size. It is a substance used in the food industry for thickening and emulsifying food products. Carrageenan is extracted from red and purple seaweeds, consisting of a mixture of polysaccharides.

Size: The thickened water-based solution upon which the colors are floated. It ıs commonly described as a thick cellulose solution. As long as the paints do not become grainy, the size can be reused for dozens of sheets. Tragacanth is mostly used for Ebru art, however methylcellulose size is also used by artists to create a surface of thickened liquid.

Scrapper: Similar to a ruler, and the width of the tray. It is used for removing any remaining paint, dust or bubbles from the surface of the size. Stripes of paper can also be used to lift paint from the size.

Stylus: Can be any tool the artist selects to manipulate the water. Many are in the shape of a thin wire. The Turkish name for this tool is biz. The tool is used to apply paint in drops, when a brush is not used. An eyedropper can also be used. Examples

Suminagashi: This technique of floating ink on water was developed in Japan during the 12th century. Many scholars believe that the Ebru marbling process was begun in the 1100's in the region of Central Asia by Turkic peoples, or in Persia. The earliest marbled books that are still in existence originated in Turkey in the 15th century. The foundations of paper marbling thus may appear unclear. Whether Ebru marbling is somehow related to earlier Chinese or Japanese methods has not been concretely proven. 

Surfactant: A wetting agent, such as a detergent, that can reduce the surface tension of a liquid to help spread the paint. Also called a dispersant.

Tekne: Turkish word for marbling tray.

Tool: Any implement used for pulling the paint or manipulating the water. A stylus can be used to drag the paint to form motifs or designs.

Tragacanth: This white gum-like substance which is used for the size is found in Anatolia and derived from a plant. It is a resin that enables the paint to float. Other types of water kitre-emulsion can be made from seaweed such as Carrageenan, or extracts from other plants, such as flaxseed.

Tray/Tub: This is the marbling tray or tub which contains the size. Modern-day marbling trays are usually made of galvanized iron, steel or aluminum. Once the size is ready and paint has been applied, the paper is slowly and carefully put into the tray (any dust or air bubbles should be removed before by puncturing the size with a needle, a process called toz almak in Turkish). After the paper absorbs the paint, it is ready to be lifted from the tray by pulling forward and upwards from two corners (from the front of the tray). Any remaining size is removed either by lightly rinsing with water, or by wiping. The paper is left to dry.

Turpentine: Known as Neft, is sometimes added to the paint, and lightly sprinkled with a small brush, creating small dots that cause the paint to break-up and create a flaky, bubbly or antique effect.

Water: Many marblers use distilled water for mixing the aqueous solution. Water that has a high mineral content may harm the marbling process.

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