The Art Of Marbling

Susi Bellamy

Posted on May 25 2018

The art of marbling first appeared in Japan as early as the 12th century AD, and was commonly called "ink floating". Delicate and fluid patterns are the result of inks resting on the surface of water being gently stirred and transposed to either paper or fabric. Part of the appeal of this method is that each resulting print is unique - a moment in time preserved on paper.

Paper marbling commonly has historical connotations, as it was often used as endpapers for books and encyclopedias, and in modern times this technique has been transformed by the creative minds of designers looking to bring it into the 21st century.

I first became inspired by paper marbling during my time in Florence, where small artisanal shops still dot the cityscape, when I noticed a small stationers selling scraps of marbled paper and began to collect them. The concept of working with a fixed colour palette to create unique designs is one that I keep revisiting. The delicate but very natural patterns resulting from the practice allowed me to amp up the colours involved without losing the antiquarian undertone that is so fitting with my Florentine inspiration. 

I occasionally sequester myself in the stunning setting of West Dean College in West Sussex for a marbling course. It allows me to detach slightly from the design process and focus on making again - which can be very liberating and be fulfilling creatively. I spend a few days there, changing my inks, sometimes even testing the waters (quite literally) with a square of silk or a wooden slate. Once I am ready to go home, I stack up my designs and bring them to my desk - where I examine which colour palettes have meshed well together, which globular prints have formed pleasing little pockets of design, and how they can be mirrored or cropped to become an abstract landscape of their own. 

The mostly unintentional, accidental beginning of the marbling process is followed by a design edit informed by current trends - ensuring the best of both worlds. As a maker, designer and business owner, I feel that my hand-marbling represents the intuitive nature of my creative process and results in products that are not only relevant to contemporary interior design, but that carry with them a fragment of the charm and authenticity of the ramshackle florentine streets that first inspired my collection.