ISU Library's new Cataloging and Metadata Management Librarian, Kelly, tries her hand at paper marbling.

ISU Library’s new Cataloging and Metadata Management Librarian, Kelly, tries her hand at paper marbling.

Using materials from Hollander’s Complete Marbling Kit and Galen Berry’s The Art of Marbling on Paper and Fabric as a reference guide, the Preservation Department recently held a voluntary staff development day exploring paper marbling.  The Conservation Unit staff, our volunteer Martha, and our Lennox Intern, Susanna, were joined by Jim from the Preservation Services Unit and Lori from the Digital Initiatives Unit.  We had one participant from outside the Preservation Department, the new Cataloging and Metadata Management Librarian, Kelly.  Why invite someone to coffee when you can invite her to get to know your department over a paper marbling tray instead?

Susanna, our Lennox Intern, and I prepared the paper to be marbled the day before the workshop.  The marbling kit came with a stack of small, 7″ x 10″ sheets of paper, but we also cut down some 17″ x 22″ sheets (the largest size that would fit comfortably in the marbling tray) of toothy, white endsheet stock and cream-colored Permalife.  We sponged an alum solution onto one side of the sheets of paper, marking the non-alum-treated side with a small pencil mark to distinguish it later.  The alum helps the marbling paint stick to the paper.  We let the sheets dry, and then pressed them overnight in an oversized book press to mitigate the slight amount of cockling from the alum treatment.  We also mixed up a carageenan sizing solution, which would form the “bath” on top of which the marbling paints would float.

Step 1: adding colors to the bath.

Step 1, adding colors to the bath.  Clockwise from top left: Susanna; Melissa; Lori and Jim; Martha.

The marbling process is simple in theory, but extremely challenging to execute deftly on the first (or second, or third) try.  First, each paint color is mixed with a drop or two of gall, which acts as a surfactant, helping to spread the color out on the surface of the carageenan bath.  The colors are added drop by drop to the bath, then “stirred” by dragging an acrylic dowel back and forth in evenly spaced lines through the entire bath.

Top: "Stirring" the colors with a dowel. Bottom: Various combs and rakes for creating complex patterns.

Top: Step 2, “stirring” the colors with a dowel.  Bottom: Various combs and rakes for creating complex patterns. (Before you ask, yes, that is a Black Power ‘fro pick with a peace sign.  It came in the kit.)

Once the colors have been stirred, a variety of combs and rakes can be dragged through the paint in straight lines, wave patterns, or figure-eights, resulting in an amazing complexity of patterns.  When the pattern is ready, a sheet of paper is gently floated on the surface of the bath (alum-treated side touching the bath).

Lifting marbled paper out of the bath.

Step 3, laying down the paper and then lifting it out of the bath.

The paper is then carefully lifted, placed in a second tray, and rinsed with cool water to remove the excess sizing before being laid out on a rack or hung to dry.  We had a great time experimenting with color and patterns, but perhaps the most significant lesson we learned was how much practice and skill it takes to master traditional paper marbling!

Our best efforts, with mixed results.

The fruits of our labor.

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