Byzantine Marbling in Miniature

I recently realized that inviting other people to write this blog would make my life a lot easier. The first installment of this exciting new strategy goes to Barbara Hodgson, long-time HM collaborator and now master of her own imprint, Byzantium. Her debut publication, Paper Botanists, was issued last year, continuing her long partnership with binder Claudia Cohen. They currently are at work on another major work, but during the interim will be issuing a book collecting Barbara’s recent experiments marbling in miniature...

In 1853, English marbler and author of The Whole Art of Marbling, Charles Woolnough, wrote of marbling as a kind of “dark” art. The process was kept so secret that apprentices were taught only one style, in order to keep them from opening up their own workshops. (The image above is French, or Shell, marble pattern, fig. 28a from his book.)  Woolnough declared that manuals published in the years before his own were so “utterly ridiculous” they must be “treat[ed] with contempt.” After the first edition of his book appeared, Woolnough was lambasted by master marblers, convinced that his clear instructions would bankrupt them.
Marbling is no longer held to be such an alchemical wonder. Esoteric ingredients such as ox gall—a product produced in the bladder of animals, which is bought from butchers and which is “none the worse for stinking,” as Woolnough claimed—has been replaced with commercial wetting agents to aid dispersal of the colours. Grinding colours is now a job only for purists, as modern prepared paints are as fine as any marbler could ask for. Collecting Scotch or Iceland moss and boiling and straining it to make the mucilaginous carrageenan for the marbling bath needs only a trip to an art store where it is found in powder form.
As a decorative book art, marbled papers are reserved for occasional use in limited edition publications; as a craft, they are found as wrapping for boxes and frames. But marbling continues to fascinate, partly because each piece produced is unique, and partly because of its inherent unpredictability. 
The following three images show a 5-1/2 x 3-1/2 inch marbling bath in three stages of preparation, with Prussian blue, burnt sienna, raw sienna, quinacridone red, chrome green and titanium white combined and drawn through. The fourth image shows the result on St Armand Old Master’s drawing paper.

It is the element of surprise that drew me to the idea of marbling a series of miniature samples on different papers (the image at top of this post shows a piece of Reg Lissel’s gampi, before & after marbling). I had already experimented with ebru, Turkish marbling, and suminagashi, Japanese marbling with ink, after finishing my part of Decorating Paper, a collaboration with Claudia Cohen, in 2014. Following a kind of tradition that began with a three-copy miniature version of our book, The Temperamental Rose, and continued with the more ambitious eight-copy mini WunderCabinet, it seemed fitting to make the suminagashi experiments in miniature form. The resulting book, in an edition of 12 copies, measured just 2-1/4 x 2-7/8 inches.

I planned to make Marbling: Paper & Colour, as it is tentatively titled, to be a same-sized companion to Suminagashi, with some 20 samples on a variety of papers, some single page; others double width for spreads or foldouts. The text would be a (very) brief description of the papers and colours used. This plan remained firmly in place until I made a mockup, at which time the idea fell apart. At the miniature size, the pages—which range from 1920s Airmail flimsies to Hahnemühle Ingres—are awkward to turn, the foldouts difficult to fold out and impossible to fold back in. 

Now Marbling has been resized to 7 x 9 inches, with two to four safely anchored samples per page. Multiple examples of some 25 to 30 different paper types will be included in each copy. There will be a short foreword and descriptions of the papers and colours, with all text to be printed at Heavenly Monkey. The edition will be a maximum of 20 copies, probably fewer, all uniformly bound in leather by Claudia Cohen. Publication is planned for late 2023.