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Marbling on Paper: Step by Step

At my Open Studio in April, a friend took numerous photos while I was marbling. I’m posting them without much comment to create step-by-step documentation of the entire process of marbling.

Some of the steps that have been left out are putting alum on the paper, mixing the carrageenan and skimming or cleaning the size. You can find pictures of all of these operations in my previous blogs, especially this one.

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Marbling Workshop on April 22, 2016

I will be teaching a basic, one-day workshop in marbling on paper on Friday, April 22nd from 9 am to 3 pm at my studio. I’ve had a few requests for this, so am finally getting my act together. I hope you’ll join us in the fun.  This is a great opportunity to dabble in a new art form, refresh your skills and produce wonderful papers to use in collages, on greeting cards, or other paper arts.

The workshop will include:

the preparation of paper with alum
preparation of acrylic paint for marbling
preparing the carrageenan or size
getting the paint to float on the size
manipulating the paint (the FUN part)
basic marbling patterns (stone, get-gel, nonpareil, plus more if time permits)
laying down paper to transfer the paint
washing and drying paper
time permitting, I’ll also demonstrate how to make low-cost marbling tools

Everyone will have bunches of beautiful paper to take home, even after just one day.  For those who become enamored with the art, want to try just one more or learn more patterns, I will have “Open Studio” days after the workshop.  On these days, you can come back and continue marbling and creating beautiful papers.  You can even try out some “over-marbling” with papers produced on Friday.  There won’t be any formal instruction, but I’ll be there to answer questions, provide help and offer suggestions. These open studio days will continue until the carrageenan or the paints give up.

This workshop is being offered through the Arts Center of Yates County.  Here is their course description:

Paper Marbling with Nancy Langford                                            Friday, April 22nd      9 am – 3 pm               Losing Her Marbles Studio
Learn the basics of creating amazing designs through marbling – an ancient method of creating designs by floating inks or paints on an aqueous solution and then transferring the design to paper, cloth or other media.  This workshop will work on preparing paper and acrylic paints for marbling, creating basic patterns and transferring that design to paper.  No previous experience necessary!  Nancy will also have open studio hours over the weekend to enable students to continue to practice and create.

Please call 315-536-8226 to register or send an email to artscenter@ycac.org

$48 members, $60 not-yet-members for Friday workshop  + $25 materials / studio fee per day 

For further information please contact Nancy using the form below.

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Ten by Two: making a lot of gift notepads

Just before Thanksgiving I received a request to make some notepads for a customer to use as gifts.  She wanted ten sets of notepad covers containing a medium-size and small-size in coordinating colors. I have been making these notepads is four sizes from portfolio for an 8.5″ x 12″ pad to a mini, memo sized (1.5″ x 4″) pad. You can see all sizes here.  This request was challenging just because of the number of items, but the time frame made it even more complicated as I was planning a two-week trip to my son’s at Thanksgiving!

I rarely work on more than four or five pieces at a time just because parts tend to wander and get mixed up.  At least this time all the basic pieces would be the same size, but keeping tracking of forty different papers was a challenge!  Before leaving for vacation I was able to cut all the Davey board covers (outside) and mat board pieces (inside) and cover the inside panels.  This blog will go through many of the steps I took on this project with illustrations when I remembered the camera.

First step, and the most fun and frustrating, was choosing all the papers to be used.  The customer wanted each set to be coordinated and I didn’t want any to use the same papers.  Fortunately, the largest size I was making was for a 6″ x 9″ pad and that gave me more choices of paper.  When I make the portfolio size (8.5″x 12″) I’m very limited as the inside needs two pieces of paper that are roughly 8″ wide by 13″ tall. Since most of my hand-marbled paper is 14″x 17″, it’s tight and the sheet has to be perfect.  I don’t have any photos, but you can imagine me sorting through stacks of paper trying to find four that went together.  I was generally looking for two printed and two marbled.  To keep all my selection straight, I clipped all the matching sheets together with notes on the backs with a number 1 through 20, whether it was large or small and inside or outside.  This is much more organized than I usually am, but with 40 pieces of paper staring at me, I really needed it.  Cutting the boards took a whole day, but at least they were the same size, so didn’t have to be marked.

Stacks of cut Davey board for covers

Stacks of cut Davey board for covers

I decided to make the inside panels first so cut all that paper first before starting gluing out anything.  Once the papers were cut, I started the gluing out process using the mat board I’d already cut.

At this point I was off for Thanksgiving.  I tried to think how I could take some of the work with me, but it was just too complicated. When I came home, I had two weeks to finish everything.  I immediately started on the outside covers.  I had already cut the boards and chosen the paper, so first task was to pick the bookcloth.  This was when I realized that I’d found the element that would tie the sets together. Each set would have matching spines and I’d use each bookcloth on only one set. The bookcloth is next to all four papers, so the choice had to work with all.  By this time all four inside panels were in ten zipper bags and clipped to the larger outside papers. As I chose the bookcloth, a small piece was slipped into the bags.  Sounds easy, but I was swapping pieces in and out as I found better matches.  At times it seemed like total chaos.

All the spines were were attached to the boards a strip was glued into the center of the spine to stiffen it. Next step was to cut all the outside cover papers to size and glue them onto the covers. To finish the covers, I glued narrow strips of bookcloth to the outside edges of the boards.  This isn’t necessary, but I feel it makes a longer wearing edge than the paper alone and I want these notepads to be used and to last.

Next, adding the insides to the outsides, right? Not quite. The writing pad has to be held in place. I use a strap of heavy paper or cardstock to secure the pad and a foot pocket to keep it in place on the right side. On the left side, I make a pocket either on the side or bottom to hold a few extra sheets of paper. Placement of the pocket depends on the design of the paper, the size of the paper and my mood.  First step, as usual, is matching a heavy paper to the pieces already made. The paper is then cut and folded individually, matching the exact size and shape of its covers.

Completed notepads! All finished and delivered on time.

This entire project was really fun, although frustrating at times. It was a challenge to find just the right papers, but in the end I’m very pleased with the results.

I always have notebooks and portfolios for sale on Etsy. If you need different colors or amounts than are available, just send a message: 

or leave a comment here.

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Update on “How to Marble Paper” page

Three years age I wrote a “How to Marble Paper” page. Since then I have had lots of questions and and I have changed several of my methods. I am currently updating the page. Here’s the first part. You can see the whole thing HERE.

Update to How to Marble

The most frequent questions I am asked are about the basic physical components of marbling – alum, carrageenan, paint and paper.  I haven’t changed the first two at all. Marbling carrageenan (not the food variety) mixed at 2.5 Tablespoons per Gallon of water (I use distilled, bottled) and marbling alum (again, not the food kind) mixed at 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of water. I mix my alum a bit stronger than some recommendations just because I find it works better for me. The carrageenan is mixed in a high-speed blender and allowed to sit overnight.  I usually mix the alum at the same time just because it’s one less step to do in the morning! The alum just needs to be stirred a bit to dissolve.

Paint
Paints can be tricky and you need to be willing to play a bit to find the brand and type that suits you purposes best. I have been converted to Golden’s Fluid Arcylics. I think they are easier to balance, have great pigment integration and provide intense colors. However, like all paint, they can be highly individual in the way you mix them. I start my paints with 1 part paint to about  1/2 part water and add water gradually to find the right balance. Colors vary a lot – blues & greens need more water, reds and yellows need less.  Unlike the paints I used to use, even the toughest of the Golden colors needs only 20 to 30 stirs to create a good suspension and most need way less.  I took a class where the paints had been pre-mixed and even though they were the same base paint that I use all the time, the water ratios were very different and it took a few papers for me to adjust my style to the paint. The moral is play, test, try and play some more until you find what suits you and how you plan to use your paper.

I use a piece of dowel to mix the paint.  It’s tempting to just use the eyedropper, but not wise.  I used to use plastic spoons, but find that the dowel provides a better surface for reintegrating pigment that has fallen out of suspension. Some paints, especially yellows and reds, rarely fall, but blues and ultramarines have to be stirred frequently.  Metallics need stirring before almost every drop and the dowel provides a pestle-like action that works well. I much prefer using cups to leaving the paint in the bottles. Bottles will develop a thick sludge of pigment on the bottom, but with the cups you can see and control the sludge formation. I’ve used both snap lid and twist on cups and prefer the twist closure. It gives a tighter seal and avoids the splash episodes when I try to open a stuck snap-on lid! You do have to take care that the twist is fully sealed if you are leaving the paint for any period of time.

Paper

What paper you use depends entirely on what you plan to do with your marbled paper.  Always keep end use in mind.  Most of my paper ends up in my books; that’s why I started marbling in the first place.  Therefore, I use a lot of drawing weight paper (70-80lbs, 100 – 130gsm). I also use a lot of card stock (65lb., 167 gsm.) for cards and for some book uses, but it is too heavy for endpapers.  I have some beautifully marbled sheets of very heavy weight paper and even watercolor paper (400 lb.) that I love, but have yet to figure out what to do with them.  Many marblers love Texoprint paper, but I am not a fan, partially because I don’t like the way it pastes down.  I have tried marbling everything from paper napkins to mat board. So try, experiment, play!  If you are just beginning, I suggest either a 70lb. drawing paper or card stock as they are both easy to handle and have many uses.

Fun sources of marbling paper are everywhere – discarded books, maps, old magazines, sheet music,  junk mail, community flyers.  Just look around.  Slick and glossy papers are harder to marble since both the alum and paint tend to slide off, but you can have fun trying!

…. Continued on THIS PAGE

 

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Minimalist Marbling

When I marble I usually have a dozen or more colors going by the third day.  I love color and I just keep adding another shade of blue or an accent of yellow.  For my last marbling session, I decided to try something completely different.  I had done some monochrome marbling before, but I had used four or five different variations – cobalt blue, Prussian blue, cyan, ultramarine blue etc. This time I used just one color plus black and white, or in a few cases, brown and white. I cheated a bit with the blue and used Cerulean blue, deep and Cerulean blue, chrome, but otherwise there was just one color.

It’s easy to get lots of shades in marbling because the paint spreads across the surface of the carrageenan and the more it spreads, the lighter it is.  As more and more paint is dropped, it spreads less and less. The first paint dropped gets compressed and so gets darker.

Some pictures of my fun time:

Cleaning up is much easier when I only use three colors!

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Designing Boxes

I haven’t blogged in over a month, so it’s about time.  This winter has been unusual in many ways – first, all the snow!  Yes, I’m in an area that gets a lot of snow normally, but this winter has been especially persistent with neither the cold nor the snow ever letting up.  It’s almost April and I still have half my yard covered with snow.  It’s not from a sudden snow, but has been there since January. There’s still a high berm of snow around the driveway from plowing and two foot drifts in places out back.  One hopeful sign is that I’ve seen some snowdrops poking through.  They are not blooming yet, but soon.  Of course they usually bloom in February. Enough about the weather.

I occasionally have people ask if I can make them a special book or marble paper in specific colors.  I take these requests with mixed emotions. It’s fun having the challenge of working to someone else’s vision, but there’s the stress of knowing it could be an epic fail, like the carrageenan disaster I had. In February, I had four special requests and two of them involved making preservation boxes. To have them all come at once was unusual and messed up my hibernation plans. Everything was finished on time, but it took some juggling.

First request was for a wedding guest book with an engraved plate on the cover and endpapers to match the wedding colors.  We added a preservation box for the book and then complicated the box by adding a drawer to keep the printed ephemera from the wedding. Here’s a brief look at the process.

The drawer had to be larger than the book due to the size of the invitation, so I used the extra space on top to provide a place for a pen. All of the measurements have to be exact so that the contents are protected and won’t move around as the box is handled. I cut the binder’s board first, but find I often have to make slight adjustments as I’m working. Since the tolerances are small, I always am amazed that everything fits perfectly at the end.

The second request was for a preservation box to act as a portfolio for a student’s artwork.  This was a challenge as the colors and feel of the box had to complement work that I hadn’t seen and fit smoothly into someone else’s artistic vision. Plus there was time pressure.

We went through many different designs and finally settled on the combination of a black outside, gray sides, black and white paste paper interior and lined with a black and white photo.

The easiest special I did was from a customer who had bought several of my jotters in the past.  She wanted the same thing in a larger size to use in a sketching class.  I thought it was a fun idea and made some extras for sale on Etsy and at the Arts Center of Yates County.

The sketchers only have ten pages so they are perfect for day trips or to keep in a car or purse.  They are easier to organize than loose sheets of paper and keep sketches done at the same time together. I’ve used a nice drawing weight paper for the pages, so I hope people like them.

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Interesting Carrageenan Disaster

I’ve been marbling on a regular basis for seven or eight years now and I’ve never had problems with my carrageenan until last summer. Problems with paint, with paper, with alum, but I didn’t even think about the carrageenan; it was always reliable. Last summer I had minor problems with it starting to break down after only a day or two, but I blamed it on the heat and moved on.  Last week, I finally had time for my first marbling session in months and I was already to go when I hit a real stopper.

It went like this.  The night before, I set up my marbling space, hung my drying lines, chose my paints, mixed the alum and mixed the carrageenan, just as I always do.  Two and a half Tbsp. to a gallon of water, two gallons in all.  I use distilled water because I have an incredible amount of stuff – iron, calcium, sulfur, and more – in my well water.  As usual, I used the same blender to mix it and poured it into my marbling tray to sit overnight.

The next morning, I alummed some paper, mixed my paints and was ready to go. As soon as I skimmed the carrageenan, I could tell something was different. It was much thicker than it should have been and was very uneven. Using a stylus and my rake, I swirled them through the tray to try to even up the liquid.  I decided to throw some paint to see what would happen and this is what I got:

I rather like the wildness in the first two pieces, but it’s not exactly marbling!  As you might imagine, I was getting upset as skimming and stirring didn’t seem to help. Slowly I realized that there were big lumps of carrageenan throughout the tray and that was the problem. I thought about putting the carrageenan through the blender again or just tossing this batch and starting fresh the next day.  I tried breaking the lumps with the rakes and that helped and I found that dragging the comb from the top of the tray to the bottom caught the lumps in the tines, so I started straining out the lumps and bit by bit the carrageenan became smoother and smoother.

As I got rid of the lumps, marbling improved, but it was still very iffy.  I was able to pull some pretty good pieces, but I was still straining lumps out after every skim.  That created a problem of its own.  It was thinning out the remaining carrageenan and, instead of crisp marbling edges, I was getting very soft fuzzy borders.  I did finish up that day, but that night I took out an old packet of carrageenan from a different source and mixed a new batch for the next morning.

I still don’t really know why this disaster occurred.  It could have been that I lost count and added an extra Tsbp. It could have been mixed too little or too much. It could have been due to cold temperatures that night. It could have been some contamination in the carrageenan powder.  I just don’t know, but it was very frustrating!

Next morning I had brand new carrageenan and a brand new tray and marbling went well. In fact things were going so well that I kept on for another three days and I had lots of fun playing with overmarbling, ripples and got back in touch with marbling just for fun. Lots of pictures of my play.

In total I had almost 100 pieces – good, bad and indifferent – by the end of the session.

Now, I want to do it again!

But, before that, I have to have a bunch of plumbing replaced right over my work area.

NOTE:  Clear acrylic frames come in many sizes and make great, inexpensive marbling trays. Just remember to test how well they hold water before using.  If they leak, plumber’s Goop or other sealant will seal the edges.

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