Marbling

The Apparitional Gamekeeper turned up this morning, not too hung over all things considered. He cut the grass, while we did a certain amount of work, then we all went out to sort out the front of house – our summer bedding in front of the windows turned out a total disaster this year due to the very late spring, so we are starting again, and it is going to be very merry and bright. I also needed to overhaul and sort out my collection of things in pots – the stars of the show at the moment are four enormous pots of white regale lilies, the tallest of which are about seven feet high. By lunchtime, we were more or less in order, so we decided to have some fun. A while back, we bought a book called The Art of Marbled Paper, by a complete madman called Einen Miura. It’s basically a recognition manual for antiquarian booksellers and aesthetes, but it does make some concessions to the issue of how you make the stuff. So the other night, we fooled about with Google till we found a source of marbling inks and other paraphernalia, and this morning, an exciting package arrived. The AG was, as usual, game for a laugh, so we hauled poor Miss Cat’s superannuated litter tray out of the garage, and decided just to start in and see what happened. The inks (oil based) were supposed just to work on water, so we dropped some onto the water and started stirring it around. This, we discovered, made a reasonably pretty sort of random, or Turkish marble, after a few goes. But we were wanting to be more ambitious than that, and the water bath, clearly, could only produce a random result: I zoomed into the kitchen, and cooked up about six pints of cornflour. We poured out the water, and put the starch into the litter tray, and things started to look a bit more organized. If organized is quite the word – but the point is, you could put ink on and it was much more inclined to stay put, so we could start tinkering with feathering and other decorative techniques. Also splotting ink and ox-gall on with a brush of some kind or another worked a treat … inevitably, we all rapidly began to look as if we had developed some kind of spotted plague, but the marble was getting better and better. I’m not saying that we’ve cracked it, but we have made some very nice pieces. However, one query which presented itself as the afternoon progressed was to do with ox-gall: this is used to alter the texture of the ink, and very effective it is. But what we wondered was, how on earth did anyone find out? Anyone who has disembowelled an ox presumably has a fairly hefty day’s work in front of him: in the thrifty Europe of the past, just about everything was used, but the gall bladder and its contents were, even by the standards of the ancien régime, wholly and absolutely inedible. Who on earth, rather than getting on with the unspeakably messy jobs of boiling up the tripe, making salami casings from the intestines, etc., wandered off with the brute’s gall bladder, saying ‘ooo, I wonder what this does?’ and started messing about with ink? And how did he get away with it, when there was so much to do? It’s one of those great human discoveries it is hard quite to imagine coming about, like, IF you get the cyanide out of cassava root, it is quite tasty, and highly nourishing. What Darwin-awardee of remote history went on experimenting after his mate had sampled raw cassava, gone blue, clutched his throat and dropped dead? There should be some sort of medal.

2 Responses to “Marbling”

  1. The German Guest Says:

    I want pictures! Pleasepleaseplease?

  2. Arnold Says:

    Never underestimate the thriftiness of pre-industrial societies. Anyway, I’m sure the killing of an ox would have been a big community event in which everyone could participate; I expect the gall-bladder was given to the kids to play with.

    According to John Evelyn’s notes on marbling (which we have here at the BL), ox-gall serves to disperse the colours and prevent them sinking to the bottom of the water. ‘To preserve the Gall from corrupting (to which tis obnoxious) put a halfe handfull of common salt into it, thus you may keep it a month or more, and the age does improve it.’ Incidentally, Evelyn probably learned about marbling from Kircher (but you knew that). Ox-blood can also be used to do clever things with marbling: if you put a drop of blood on the paper, it ’stops’ the marbling and creates a neat round hole in the middle of the pattern, which can then be used to block a title if you are using the paper for binding.

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