My Paper Marbling Disaster...I Mean, 'Journey'

As you'll know from my last newsletter, I've been hard at work learning how to marble so that I can produce the endpapers of my book. There's quite a tradition behind that folded rectangle of paper under the cover that comes before the title page on many old hardcover books; and I've been keen to explore the process so I can add another special element, one that fits in perfectly with the book's visual theme.

First, about my setting-up process. What does a straw broom, hair roller pins, and a strip of corner bead (for creating a sharp-edged corner when plastering walls) have in common? Each of these can be transformed into tools for marbling paper. A trip to Bunnings later, and after raiding grandma's bathroom, I was all set up and ready to go.


My brainwave was to save money by using the cotton paper left over from my printing. After all, I had enough, it's beautiful―and thick enough for endpapers. What I didn't realise is that most cotton papers are treated with a water-repellent substance known as 'size'. The first step in marbling is to apply what's called a 'mordant': a dye fixative that makes the colours adhere to the paper. Problem is, if the surface is aquaphobic the mordant won't soak in and the paint won't stick! See my disasters below:

The good news is that a coating of size on paper is like primer on a canvas: paints, like the acrylics I'm using, are designed to stick to it, without any additives. After noticing that the paper I hadn't applied mordant to took the paint, I went with that.


The next problem I faced is the bane of marblers the world over: air bubbles. One needs to lie the paper on the surface of the marbling bath in one smooth, continuous motion, applying just enough pressure to dispel any pockets of air that might get trapped between the surface and the paper. But, the thicker the paper, the harder this is to do; and mine's heavier than most marblers would recommend. After spending months trying to get around this problem I despaired that I'd have to give my marbling project away.

Then, I had a moment of inspiration. I came across an article on 'over-marbling', which means marbling your sheet twice. That way air bubbles that might have marred the design on the first marbling are covered by a second layer of paint, with the added bonus of greater depth and complexity to the design. True, this approach means a lot of extra work (and materials), but I think you'll agree that the results are worth it.

Thanks for reading,


Beck Sutton.


Endpaper image:

Many thanks to Nancy Langford for the advice she offers on her website, 'Losing Her Marbles'. Techniques, troubleshooting and suggestions for marbling tools have all come from this invaluable site.

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