Marbling is classed as an endangered heritage craft. Here in the UK there are less than 20 artists currently marbling professionally in the UK. 

Marbling is different to the stone marble, as it is a surface pattern made when ink or acrylic paint float on a surface of treated water and a marbled effect occurs, much like the stone it is named for.  

To create marbling, ink or paint is dropped, or flicked on to a water surface, creating random circles. These can then be blown, or fanned, or swirled using a skewer to create a pattern. A sheet of treated paper is then carefully placed on the surface and the pattern transfers to the paper when it’s lifted off. 

The history of marbling started in Japan, around the eighth century, with Suminagashi ink marbling.  Suminagashi means to float ink on water.  Over the next few centuries the craft travelled to China, Central Asia, India and Turkey, finally reaching Europe in the seventeenth century.  In Turkey they created a seaweed compound to thicken the water and in Europe, special combs were used to create intricate patterns.  

Marbled paper was used for both book covers, as well as the endpapers (the internal cover sheets). The marbled patterned paper ensured that any damage was not visible, compared to a plain cover.  In the nineteenth century marbling became more popular, especially after the publication of  “The Art of Marbling” by Charles Woolnough in 1853. Later in 1893, Josef Halfer included a section on marbling book edges, a practice that was used until then for accounting ledgers. If the accounts were altered, the marbling would be interrupted or damaged, with the result showing evidence of tampering and possible tax avoidance.

With the mechanisation of bookmaking in the early 20th century, the popularity of marbling waned.  The 1960-1970s it saw a brief resurgence in interior design, such as wallpaper, but in recent years, with the closure of businesses, the mechanisation of manufacturing and the changes in art education, the teaching of this craft has all but stopped in mainstream education and so skills have been lost in the industry.

This craft is now on the Heritage Crafts Red List of Endangered Crafts 2023.  For more information or to become a member to support the important work of this organisation, please click on the link below which will take you to the Heritage Crafts site.

Heritage Crafts Endangered Craft of Marbling