Monday, January 29, 2018

Making Ebru, Turkish Marbled Paper

Several weeks ago the Yongsan Global Village Center hosted an experience through the Turkish Culture Center (Yeoksam station, Seoul) of making the Turkish traditional marbled paper, ebru. The walls of the center are decorated with vivid colors -- ceramics painted mandala style, Turkish lamps of varying sizes, and frame upon frame upon frame of just plain ebru paper or ebru paper framing some other kind of artwork. 

The center table was already set up with four large pans of treated water, which had to be mixed several hours or even a day in advance. Ox gall is added to gel the water just a touch which allows the special paints (acrylic-based? oil-based?) to be buoyant for a short time. When I asked how much ox gall is needed, I was told there is no set recipe -- the mixing is based on experience. This makes sense to me as temperature, humidity, altitude probably all affect the ration of water to ox gall. 

The colors used are all natural pigments, and typically in Turkey artists are known to go out in nature and find their own pigments and stains and whatever to make their own paints. I asked the price of the typical ebru paints and was only told "very expensive". The center does sell paints to those who enroll in a four-month program, W900,000 for enrollment. 

So our small group of 12 was only introduced to the basics of ebru, since none of us had ever experienced it before. The center does offer basic courses for those interested. It's W25,000/person with a minimum of 4 people, which makes sense. Set-up for the water mixture would be quite the hassel and expensive if only a couple of people were going to be using it.

The instructor explained to us the various colors, the brushes which are made from animal hair and all artists pretty much make their own, and then she introduced us to the method of marbling the paper. In this introductory class, we learned three kinds of simple marbling:

Battal ebru or "stone" marbling - the paint is tapped in stone or pebble shapes onto the surface of the water, then a paper without sizing is placed flat on the water and the paint immediately adheres to the surface of the paper ... provided the ox gall ration is right, or the paint is right (not watercolor, for instance). It's important to lay the paper flat on the water and not get bubbles; otherwise, there will be a big white patch where the bubble was. So the best way to lay the paper flat is to treat the opposite corners like wings of a bird, and to hold those wings gently as the paper is lowered onto the surface of the water and then the wings are lightly released. 

our instructor tapping a paint-loaded brush to drop pebbles onto the surface of the water
Sal ebru or "wave" marbling - first tap stones or pebbles of paint onto the surface like with battal ebru, but then with a thin object make a back and forth pattern.

Tarak ebru or "comb" marbling is taking the wave pattern to the next level. A piece of wood with thin spikes/nails/knitting-needle-like objects is gently dipped in one end of the pan with paints floating and the comb is dragged through the paints to the opposite side. Often the comb is then dragged through again to make horizontal and vertical comb-like patterns. While I like the spontaneity of the battal ebru and the sal ebru, if only lightly waved, is nice, I really dislike the busy-ness of "combed" tarak ebru. But then that's just my opinion.

Another ebru that I like but which we didn't make is swirled ebru. The colors are spattered on the water and then gently swirled with a thin object. Van Gogh would have loved this style!

After painting a sheet, it is placed in the drying rack for at least 15 minutes. With everyone's sheets drying, we then went into a video room and watched YouTube clips of Ebru masters making massive sheets of ebru with impressive pictures, advertisements with ebru, and national images and clothing featuring ebru designs. Wow, my eyes have been opened to an aspect of the culture that I certainly would have overlooked if I just traveled to Turkey. Ebru is everywhere! The art form is absolutely a part of the national image!

Go to a Turkish home, coffee or desserts is a must. We were treated with rich brownies from a package, but who would have known they were an American product with their exotic presentation?! Turkish black tea was the complement.
Shelves and walls held many Turkish art forms, and the mandala-like painted ceramics were a big item.
Unfortunately this kind of class is not offered as the center has no kiln.
The ebru I made (left to right): battal or "stone" ebru, tarak or "comb" ebru, and sal or "wave" ebru
My battal ebru should be on top. I absolutely love the colors! The white on it is because my surface paint wasn't so dense and the non-painted water created a fifth color. I wish I had left more "white" on my next two paintings; they would have turned out more impressive.

Before we were turned lose on the paints, we were instructed to limit our paintings to only 3 colors, but I added a few flecks of yellow, my fourth color, for contrast ... and I really like the results. I do agree though that in general the limited color range is how to achieve the best results.


For those wanting to learn more about ebru and its connection to the national image of Turkey, look up Garip Ay on the internet. He's Turkey's most famous ebru artist!

Contact info the Turkish Culture Center:

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