Clouded paper
suminagashi (墨流し)
‘floating ink’ – Japanese
abr-o-bâd (ابرو باد), ‘cloud and wind’ – Farsi…

Abrī (ابرى), could be the origin from Persian for the name Ebru. Annemarie Schimmel translated the term Ebru into English as clouded paper.

Ebru goes by various names – Clouded paper, Turkish marbled paper, suminagashi (墨流し) – ‘floating ink’ in Japanese, abro-bad (ابرو باد) – ‘cloud and wind’ in Farsi, or simply marbled paper. Despite the differences in painting techniques, they all share one essential element – the colors are skillfully placed on water.

Two pages of waka poems by Ōshikōchi Mitsune. It Is the oldest examples of marbled paper known today and was presented to the Emperor Shirakawa on his sixtieth birthday in 1112 CE.

The technique of floating colors on water’s surface is believed to have originated in the late 15th century, tracing its roots back to Greater Iran and Central Asia. Persian history books mention “kāghaẕ-e abrī” or “abrī” as its early names. In the 15th century, various ebru techniques and materials emerged in Persia and the geographical regions of present-day Türkiye.

During the 1850s, Ebru techniques caught the eye of English and Dutch book printers. Ebru paintings played a significant role in the European printing revolution, adorning book covers, binders, and calligraphy. As time passed, diverse methods surfaced, where colors were skillfully floated on the surface of a bath of viscous liquid mucilage or size. These substances were derived from various plants like fenugreek seeds, onion, tragacanth gum (Astragalus), and salep (roots of Orchis mascula).

In addition to continuing the traditional applications, artists today are exploring Ebru art as a painting technique. The art is presented at international symposiums and museum exhibitions and is still being researched for its origins.

Ebru is part of Turkish culture, identity and way of living. Ebru technique is not only practical but also a philosophical knowledge that is passed from one generation to the other. It is part of a collective identity and generational memory. Professional ebru artists start working with a master as apprentices. After two years of learning and training they can develop their own techniques and even create their own materials.

Marbled endpaper from a book bound in France around 1735.

Art comes in many forms and fashions.

What makes Ebru art special?

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Coexistence of colors

Colors coexist; that means they do not mix on the water. In modern times, Ebru symbolizes the diversity within the cosmos. Both the cosmos and Ebru colors form a common, fascinating unity, without either dominating or displacing the other.

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Unique artwork

Creating art on water is a complex process with numerous influencing factors – from color mixing to weather temperature, hand speed, and even dust on the surface. Reproducibility is nearly impossible, and harmony between body and mind is crucial for success.

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Interplay

Mastering the colors on the water surface demands years of training. Intentional or accidental, the interaction creates admirable artistic motifs. Even amidst less pleasing results, the dance of colors becomes a meditative journey, where the soul finds peace and floats like clouds in the air.

Material


Paint

For centuries, Ebru utilizes natural colors from rocks and soil, resistant to water. Mixing paint with water and ox gall in a container, it rests for a month or two, requiring regular stirring. Proper soaking ensures colors adhere to the paper, achieving the desired outcome.

Carrageenan

In the process of making Ebru, a concentrated and sticky liquid is crucial, and the most commonly used material for this purpose is carrageenan. Carrageenan is a type of algae primarily found in northern European seas.

Ox gall

To enable colors to spread on the fluid surface without sinking, we use ox gall. This substance breaks and regulates the surface tension while preventing color mixing. Obtained from cows, gall is a liver secretion involved in fat digestion. Finding the right balance of ox gall to add to the colors is a challenging step in Ebru-making. Initially, less ox gall is needed as the surface tension is low, but subsequent colors require more as the tension increases. Unbalanced colors can sink, shatter, or smear when transferred to paper.

Turpentine

Natural turpentine is used to give the colors a three-dimensional, spherical effect.

Tray

A stainless steel tray serves as a container for the liquid used in Ebru. The tray typically has a depth of about 6 cm and comes in sizes of 68 x 100 cm, 34 x 50 cm, and 17 x 25 cm.

Brush

Ebru brushes are skillfully crafted using horsehair and dried rose branches. The brushes are tied with misina, without the use of glue or ribbons. As time passes, the strings of the brushes naturally bend, resulting in a graceful curve. This curve allows for precise control over the direction of the drops, adding to the art’s finesse.

Combs and awls

Combs play a crucial role in crafting comb patterns, with variations in tooth distances (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 mm). Each artist customizes their combs to suit their preferences. Awls, made from nails, strings, and needles of different sizes and thicknesses, are utilized to shape Ebru paints on the surface.