December 29, 2008

Turkish Paper Marbling
Istanbul, Turkey

As if mingling with (and getting fed by) a bevy of high school girls wasn't enough excitement for one day, our CouchSurfing hostess was fairly amped up to see us attend her weekly 'paper marbling' class (snugly tucked inside a building nearly an hour's bus journey away from the apartment).

Eh? Marbled paper, you say?

…Yeah, I had no idea either.

There are several methods for making marbled papers. The simplest form, and possibly the oldest, comes from Japan.

Floating colors are carefully manipulated either by blowing on them directly or through a straw, fanning the colors, or carefully using a human hair to stir the ink or pigment. 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.

A 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 Persians 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.

In the sized-based method, colors made from pigments are mixed with a surfactant such as ox gall. These 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.

Once the colors are laid down, various tools and implements such as rakes or combs, are used in a series of movements to create more intricate patterns. Paper or cloth is gently laid onto the floating colors, where the colors are thereby transferred to the surface of the paper or material.

The art was taught at the Fine Arts Academy in Istanbul by a premier student (Necmeddin Okyay, 1885-1976) of a marbling master, who became famous for the development of floral styles of marbling.

And it's here, at this particular art room, where a group of women assemble once a week to practice this technique.

Tea, Art and Food

Ah, but I almost think it's less about the art, and more about the treats these women bring to class. I mean, it's a serious potluck with this gathering of women.

There aren't enough trays of water and materials for all the girls to work simultaneously, so they take turns watching each other, lovingly cooing at the patterns their friends are producing. Every woman typically has enough time to make about three prints.

Some people actually do it with a specific intent in mind—creating unique, personalized wrapping paper for gifts or marbled greeting cards.

But everyone was doing flowers. The drying shelves were stacked high with flower after flower. When I found out that Neşe had been attending this class for years, I had to do the math… Two or three years, maybe 50 classes per year, three or more marblings per class… 300-500 flowers.

Damn. Doesn't that get a little, old? I thought.

But it's less about the result and more about perfecting a technique, socializing with the girls, and eating.

Ah, but when it came my turn to give the marbling a whirl, I broke free from the herd (in typical Craig fashion). Tatiana laughed and soothed Neşe as I worked independently on my own design.

And what did I make? Well, check out the photos below, and see. (laughing—I certainly know how to please a room full of women.)

All the girls went "awwwwwww" and by the end of the class, I caught a few of them breaking free from the flowers and doing some similar designs to the one I'd produced!

Also, check out the hilarious photo of Aidric covering his eyes when Tatiana's presents her marbled paper for me to grab a snapshot. Too funny…

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