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The Ancient Art of Paper Marbling, The Turkish Way

The Ancient Art of Paper Marbling, The Turkish Way
by Toni-Lee Sangastiano, 1st year IDSVA student

Ebru is the Turkish word for clouds and the name of the celebrated tradition of paper marbling or water surface painting. As an artist and graphic designer who has experimented with paper marbling in the past, and as an IDSVA student with an upcoming residency in Istanbul, I jumped at the opportunity to attend a workshop while living in Florence, Italy, with one of Turkey’s master Ebru teachers Hikmet Barutçugil.

Barutçugil is a lecturer at the department of Traditional Turkish Arts, Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts (Istanbul, Turkey) and he conducts workshops on marbling and other traditional crafts at his art centre, Ebristan. This two-day workshop was part of a “Celebration of Marbling Festival” at Bookbarnkat Studios. The event also included lectures by Dr. Jake Benson (USA & Egypt), Curator of the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation & Dar al-Kutub Manuscript Project (TIFDAK). Dr. Benson presented his focused research on Persian And Indian Marbling 15th Through 17th Centuries and a sneak preview of an expansion upon a forthcoming chapter for the 2015 Deccan exhibition catalogue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


During the workshop, we learned about the history of Ebru, how to make traditional marbling brushes using horse tail and rose branches, how to create traditional Turkish marbling backgrounds and flowers and matting Ebru on cardboard. The movement of the ink across the surface of the size is absolutely mesmerizing and reminiscent of the magical scenes and patterns both in nature and in the universe. Lifting and sliding the paper off the surface of the size creates much anticipation and results in satisfying surprise and awe once the image is revealed. There is a sense of peace and tranquility that encapsulates the entire process. The process itself is very meditative and has a long history connected to devotional activities. I am reminded of Hikmet’s explanation of Ebru and the environment he intentionally creates and conveys to his students. “Our energy transfers into the design through the water and only positive actions, words and thoughts are permissible. Ebru is something that succeeds in bringing out the beauty in a person’s soul.”