Culture Kick # 2: Turkish Paper Marbling

in Art, Crafts, Dance and Music

Turkish traditional marbled paper with tulip motif

Photo by Orhan Cam

Ever seen those lovely book covers and stationery that look like marble?

That’s paper marbling (ebru in Turkish), a centuries-old art form with roots in ancient China and Central Asia.

Ebru means “cloud paper” and, when you see someone create one of these swirling designs, you’ll understand why.

On a recent trip to Turkey, we stumbled on a live demonstration of Turkish paper marbling. Watch the video to see how easy and fun paper marbling is.

In the Turkish marbling method, you use special tools to sprinkle, drip and swirl paint onto a floating surface (usually plain water or a viscous solution known as size or sizing). Then, ever so carefully, you transfer the design onto paper or fabric.

So how did paper marbling get from China to India to Persia to Turkey?

No one knows for sure but it’s a safe bet to say that, like many other aspects of culture (food, customs, language), the art of paper marbling crossed geographic boundaries via the Silk Road trade routes.

Many Europeans first encountered marbled paper in Istanbul which is likely the reason it’s commonly referred to as “Turkish” marbling today.

Modern-day Turkish marbling artists still favor the traditional floral designs — tulips, especially — first introduced by the master teacher Necmeddin Okyay (1885-1976) and then later codified by Mustafa Düzgünman (1920-1990).

What can you do with marbled paper? Here are some ideas:

    wrapping paper – Since each sheet of paper is a one-of-kind design, you can jazz up gifts with a unique look.

bookmarks – Simply cut 2 inch by 6 inch strips of the paper and glue them to card stock of the same size.

art work – Have fun creating your own design and then frame it.

drawer or shelf liners – Make your own or look for scented papers.

placemats – Cut rectangular pieces of marbled paper and laminate them.

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Justine Ickes January 29, 2012

With nail polish, Chrissy?! How? Is it easy to do? I’ll have to give it a try and see. Thanks for the idea.

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Chrissy January 28, 2012

My daughters and I did something very similar with nail polish… so much fun and always so unique!

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Shazia January 5, 2012

Just beautiful! Could you please tell me where in Turkey was this? I’ll be there in April and would love to visit. Cheers from Fiji!

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Justine Ickes January 5, 2012

Hi Shazia! Yes, isn’t the marbled paper and the setting gorgeous?! This video was made in my husband’s hometown, Besikduzu, on the Black Sea. It’s very green and mountainous – quite different scenery from what most people think of when they picture Turkey. So what’s bringing you to Turkey? Work? Vacation?

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Ahmet Özgür KUKUL October 3, 2011

Here’s a note from Ahmet. He’s the artist in the video who so graciously taught us to do paper marbling. If you’re lucky enough to know Turkish, you can read Ahmet’s comments below. For the rest of us, here’s a translation (thanks to my husband):

Hi, I’m Ahmet. When I saw this video, I got emotional. If I’d known you were going to make a video, I would’ve prepared better. But this demonstration is more natural. Thanks.”

“Merhaba. Ben Ahmet video yu izleyince çok duygulandım böyle bir paylaşım olacağını bilse idik hazırlık yapardık.ama daha doğal olmuş, tekrar teşekkürler. Hoşçakalın.”

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Justine Ickes July 30, 2011

Thanks for stopping by, Laura. I love paper marbling too, especially now that I’ve seen it done and realized how easy and fun it is. A great rainy-day activity for kids. You’re lucky to have learned it!

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Laura Amann July 27, 2011

So beautiful! I remember learning to do marbling in a groovy course taught at my 1970s experimental school :) So beautiful and I had no idea it was so cultural!

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