The wonder of marbling | FinancialTimes


Marbling – the ancient art of making patterns on paper – is magical. Even once all the utensils (tray, brushes, combs) and ingredients (carrageenan base or water and gouache, oil or acrylic paint) have been carefully assembled, and the instructions have been followed (gently place your paint on the thick carrageenan base, create your pattern then laid on the alum-treated paper to capture it), there is an element of chance. And for the burgeoning army of potential stonemasons, this is both pleasure and devilry.

Beata Heuman spotted velvet, £150 a yard © Ollie Tomlinson

Rosi De Ruig Tamarind Pleated Shade, £122

Rosi De Ruig Tamarind Pleated Shade, £122

Choose to Keep Marbled Notebook, £50

Choose the Keeping marbled notebook, £50

“When it’s going well, it can be very therapeutic and meditative – it’s cheaper than therapy,” says Alex Lewis, who, with Clementine Stone, runs Compton Marbling, a Wiltshire studio that makes handmade papers. hand since the 70s. “But when things are bad, it is better to leave.”

The fascination and frustration of marbling resonates through the ages. According to Kate Brett, the author of Making traditional marbled papers (The Crowood Press, £12.99) – who practices at her Payhembury Marbled Papers workshop and frequently searches for her own carrageenan seaweed along the shores of the west coast of Scotland where she lives – the earliest example of marbling dates back to the 12th century in Japan. Known as suminagashi, meaning “floating ink”, it is a process in which ink and dispersant are carefully combined in a tub of water before being transferred to ethereal effect paper. By the 15th century, the practice had moved to southern India, later spreading to Iran and Turkey, where Istanbul’s vibrant decorative paper industry eventually found its way to the west.

Compton Marbling Marbled on marbled base and shade, £220,

Compton Marbling Marbled on marbled base and shade, £220,

Compton Marbling Matchbox, £7.95,

Compton Marbling Matchbox, £7.95,

“They curiously shun their paper, which is… speckled like chamolet,” wrote author and traveler George Sandys in 1615, of the often ornate and figurative Turkish papers, scented with fenugreek seeds and named ébru, meaning “cloud art”. Marbling flourished in Europe, Brett says, entering England via Holland in the mid-17th century, when everything from chests to drawers, bookends to bookshelves, was embellished with a distinctive range of “Dutch papers.” Since then, marbling has come into fashion and is no longer in fashion. In recent years, marbled patterns have gone beyond books and paper goods, increasingly appearing on everything from wallcoverings and decorative items to interior and fashion fabrics.

One hundred marbled papers, £4,270,
One hundred marbled papers, £4,270,

“If everything comes in waves, then marbling is a tsunami,” says Lucinda Chambers, co-founder of online retail curation site Collagerie and label Colville, of its revival. Chambers first encountered marbling as a teenager, when his mother Anne Chambers immersed herself in the art form after studying bookbinding. “There were papers leaking all over our apartment,” she recalls. She went on to write seven books on the subject, teaching and lecturing around the world, but it was only recently that Chambers felt able to return to the craft. “I could see the beauty of it,” she says. “But I wasn’t interested in bringing it home – it always took me back to the 80s.” That was until now. Chambers recently installed a pair of mismatched, hand-pleated marble lampshades by Rosi de Ruig in her kitchen as an ode to her mother. “It’s a simple way to add color and pattern without it being too overwhelming,” she says.

A design on the surface of the marbling tray by artist Mercedez Rex

A design on the surface of the marble top by artist Mercedez Rex © @mercedezrex

A look from Colville's FW21 collection

A look from Colville’s FW21 collection

When Chambers saw the work of Austin-based marble artist Mercedez Rex, she invited her to collaborate on a series of prints for Colville’s AW21 collection. The design mimics an ongoing shot on social media showing concentric circles of acrylic paint superimposed on the surface of Rex’s marbling top. “It’s hard-hitting, modern and theatrical. The colors are extreme and in your face. It put marbling in a whole new context for me,” she says of the Americana’s bold, psychedelic style. With a background in textile art and a passion for the process, Rex was drawn to the experimental possibilities of marbling. “I like a bit of unpredictability in my art; this is where I can let go,” she explains. “And people are attracted to these fancier elements of surface design.”

This sense of whimsy is precisely what prompted London-based Swedish interior designer Beata Heuman to develop her own Marbleised Velvet fabric when she was working on her first major project – a stylish townhouse in west London. – ten years ago. “I love the freedom and randomness of marbling,” she says. “There’s this element of always trying to tame it, but you can’t.” Inspired by an old paper sample, it also spawned a marbled wallpaper – which remains by far its best-selling design – and recently caught the eye of designer Adam Bray, who backed the bookshelves in the library. of a customer with the paper. Last year, Heuman introduced Dappled Velvet, a swirling marbled textile playing with repeats of scale and pattern. “It’s distinctive, but has classic overtones, so it never feels too out there.”

INQ Rioja Borracha Paper in a Bathroom by Berdoulat Interior Design

INQ Rioja Borracha paper in a bathroom by Berdoulat Interior Design © Patrick Williams

Such traditionalism also drives the paper goods business of Bath, Inq-based marble worker, designer and fabricator Florence Saumarez. Since establishing his studio in 2017, Saumarez has worked with decorators, papermakers and designers to create bespoke marbled papers, as well as lampshades, paperweights, marbling kits and workshops that dive into the rich history of craftsmanship. Saumarez uses gouache paints which, although temperamental, create a matte, velvety finish and crisp patterns. She thinks the current wave of marbling is driven by the fact that people are more willing to try their hand at the craft and practitioners are more open to sharing their knowledge, often on social media. “Even when I had my first marbling class six years ago, there were hidden secrets,” she says.

For Saumarez, the appeal of marbling lies in its many applications. “I’ve always been fascinated by what marbled paper can become,” says the designer who will soon be launching her own line of wallpaper and decorative objects for the home. “Even though it is this very traditional craft, its applications are endless.” Saumarez has long offered a bespoke hand-marbled wallpaper design service, but these new creations are the first to hit shelves using a fusion of artisanal and digital techniques. The collection includes Spanish marble wallcoverings available in several colorways and a rusticated pattern that borrows from the vivid floor pattern found in the atrium of Villa Borsani in Milan. Each colorway has a matching border and will be sold with mirrors, wall sconces and classic information ceramic lamp bases to accompany its marbled paper shades.

Scanlon Apparati Hand Marbled Accessories, from $75,

Scanlon Apparati Hand Marbled Accessories, from $75,

American paper artist Beth Scanlon, founder of Scanlon Apparati, creates high-end, decorative cardboard desk accessories, including boat-shaped trays, wastebaskets and ornate baroque letter holders, some with shadow boxes, inspired by 18th century paper art. theaters. “I’ve always been drawn to marbling,” she says. “He has this bookish, literary charm.” Sold at Colefax & Fowler and KRB in New York, with whom Scanlon is launching a series of five new marbled patterns in November, many of the papers it uses are polished with beeswax, giving them a high patina – and an erudite perfume. She works with an array of marble artists to bring her designs to life, including Flavio Aquilina, based in Payhembury, Naples, and John and Jane Jeffery, who artfully decorate what is known as old printer paper ( which have been recycled from ancient books and manuscripts) from their home studio in Edinburgh.

For these creatives, marbling is a true labor of love. “It makes you cry as much as it makes you happy,” Saumarez said. “The chemistry you face can be incredibly difficult. There are so many variables – the paint behaves differently from summer to winter, and even the tension in the body can affect the results. But I love that it’s so instantaneous. Joy for Saumarez? The possibilities are limitless.


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