The Art of the Marbler: An Enchanting Film on the Centuries-Old Craft of Making Handmade Marbled Paper

The current mode of scandal in business and politics involves email and tweets rather than memoranda. But we do not yet live a paperless world, even if you haven’t dusted your printer in months. Book production and sales continue to rise, for example, defying predictions of a few years back that eBooks would overtake print. Even if we have to someday make paper in laboratories rather than forests and mills, it’s hard to imagine readers ever letting go of the pleasures of its textures and smells, or of simple, yet satisfying acts like placing a favorite paper bookmark in the creases.

We do, however, seem to live in a largely stationary-less world, and we have for some time. As the fine art of making artisanal papers recedes into history, so too does the printing of books with marbled covers and pages.

Yet, if you have on your shelf hardback books anywhere from 30 to 130 years old, you no doubt have a few with marbled patterns on them or in them. And if you’ve ever wondered about this strange art form, wonder no more. The 1970 British educational film, “The Art of the Marbler,” above, offers a broad overview of this fascinating “material which has covered books for many centuries.”

Produced by Bedfordshire Record Office of Cockerell Marbling and directed by K.V. Whitbread, the short film is a marvel of quaintness. It effortlessly achieves the kind of quirk Wes Anderson’s films strive for simply by being itself. We learn that every marbled paper, unlike Christmas wrapping paper, is a “separate and unique original.” And that the process is precious and specialized, and nearly all done by hand. Lest we become too enamored of the idea that marbling is strictly a historical curiosity these days, the mesmerizing video above from 2011 by Seyit Uygur shows us up close how his parents perform the art of Ebru, Turkish for paper marbling.

Marbling, the “printmaking technique that basically looks like capturing a galaxy on a page,” as Emma Dajska writes at Rookie, became quite popular in the Islamic world, where intricate patterns stood in lieu of portraits. But the process originated neither in England nor Turkey, but in China and, later, Japan, where it is known as Suminagashi, or “floating ink.” The Japanese technique, as you can see in the video tutorial above from Chrystal Shaulis, is very different from British Marbling or Turkish Ebru, seeming to combine the methods of Jackson Pollack with those of the Zen gardener. However it’s done, the results, as “The Art of the Marbler” tells and shows us, are each one a “unique original.”

“The Art of the Marbler” will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

Related Content:

The Making of Japanese Handmade Paper: A Short Film Documents an 800-Year-Old Tradition

The Art of Collotype: See a Near Extinct Printing Technique, as Lovingly Practiced by a Japanese Master Craftsman

How Ink is Made: The Process Revealed in a Mouth-Watering Video

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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