Painting on Water, and Don’t it look Good!

February 23rd, 2016

Understanding Ebru Art

When we think of the act of drawing, painting or sketching, we mostly imagine it being done on paper or canvas. It’s quite impossible for us to imagine someone spewing colour on another surface, especially if it’s a fluid one. So, if we told you that there is an art form in which the painting is done on water, would you believe us? Well, you’ll have to because this art practice really exists. Ebru Art, which is also called paper marbling, involves the creation of paint patterns of a viscous fluid. A paper is then placed on the surface of the fluid, causing the paint to cling to the paper in the form of a pattern. Voila! You have your painting ready!

ebru art youtube

Image courtesy: YouTube

Does this procedure seem to go against reason? Has it left you wondering how the paint doesn’t dissolve in water, or how the paper doesn’t get drenched? These are very valid questions and to answer these, we must explain at length, the manner in which Ebru art is made. Ebru art, which is a Turkish art form has been around for centuries. Earliest specimens have be found in the 13th and 14th centuries. Back then, Ebru artwork filled the interiors of prestigious books, or were framed and hung on walls. Today, however, Ebru art pieces are used extensively in bookbinding, where they are used as dividers to separate sections in a book or as covers to give the book an attractive appearance. It is important to note that this art form, although rarely seen these days, is still loved for its beautiful and intricate designs. Let us now talk about how these patterns are made.

To begin with, a shallow tray is filled with treated water. In earlier times, an ingredient called Gum Tragacanth, which is a sticky substance obtained from the trunk of a plant, was added to the water to increase its viscosity. Today, marblers use powdered carrageenan extracted from various seaweeds or a synthetic ingredient called hydroxypropyl methylcellulose. This changes the consistency of the water and prevents the colour from dissolving in it. After the water is filled in the tray, coloured dye is sprinkled over it. However, the dye too has to be mixed with an ingredient called ox gall, which causes the colour to float on water. It also prevents the colour from mixing with other colours. Then, a pointy object like a bamboo piece or rose wood twig is used to prod and manipulate the dyes into patterns. After the pattern has been created, a sheet of washi paper, which is a strong, thick paper, is placed on the surface of the tray so that the dye sticks on the paper. The exact pattern can be seen traced on to the paper. Common designs created include leaves, floral designs, birds and even human figures.

Here is a video to help you understand better how this is done:

Ebru art is really fun to create, especially because the patterns that form are unpredictable. The dye might not always spread the way you intend it to and this can result in the formation of new, unexpected patterns. Also, the more you practice, the more intricate and layered your designs can get. Doesn’t this seem like a really interesting technique to learn? We surely want to!


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