Sunday, December 2, 2012

Marbleized Paper

A lovely sheet of paper
In Rome, down a narrow little street leading to the Trevi Fountain, Ann, Sheila and I ran across a small store called Il Papiro. They sold paper. And all kinds of items made of and for paper. The seals and sealing wax so popular when I was a teenager in the 60s were on display. Greeting cards, blank books for sketching and writing, boxes and jewelry made with marbleized paper, picture frames, even pens and pencils covered in paper as decoration were for sale. And drawers filled with sheets of paper created with the marbling technique lined the back room. The sales woman gave us a quick demonstration of how marbleizing is done, and a card for the "mother" store in Florence, which somehow got lost in transition.

So I was delighted to be walking down a rainy street in Florence, hood over my head, looking down, when a sideways glance revealed Il Papiro on the other side of the dark street. We popped in, shook off like a couple of dogs, and discovered a treasure of Florentine paper art.

Fine papers have always lined the insides of bound books. In Madrid, in the Royal Palace, I had the fortune of seeing an exhibit, on its last day, of the royal bindings. (Previous blog post: RoyalPalace) Some of those books even had marbleized edges.

The saleswoman in Rome said we should ask to see the same demonstration by the people in Florence as they are so much more skilled. I asked the young lady to show Derek how it was done. She was much better and produced a lovely sheet of paper, uniform, with brighter more consistent colors.

Basically, there is a vat of wallpaper paste a bit larger than the sheet of paper. In olden times, they used a gel made from a type of sphagnum moss grown in Ireland, which now is too expensive. Today that moss is used to create binding gels for food, like ice cream. That's why commercial ice cream remains so smooth even if it melts and is refrozen. Refrozen home-made ice cream forms sharp crystals, ruining its texture (but not the much better flavor!)

The board has pins at regular intervals,
allowing the paint to be "cut" into a lightning
bolt pattern. With a stick, she drew curves
making a flowered pattern in the other half. 
She sprinkled droplets of acrylic paint onto the paste by tapping a loaded paintbrush over the container. Then using various tools she blended the colors creating curvy designs. The paint had a tendency to "melt" into the paste so she had to work fast. It's also possible to use oil paints over water in the same method. Carefully she laid a sheet of absorbent paper over the paste, pressed lightly so all the paint would be picked up, then slid a wooden rod under the paper to squeegee off the paste, and instantly, a sheet of marbleized paper was drooping from her hand.

Like Pietre Dure, mentioned in the previous post, marbleizing paper is an art practiced in Florence and northern Italy by the world's best artists. With the advent of polychrome printing, the art of creating marbled papers by hand was almost lost.  Il Papiro is a company with a workshop employing excellent craftsmen, and it has small stores in several cities in Italy plus more scattered around the world. Their website,  IlPapiro, is worth a visit, and if you live near on of their stores, treat yourself to a demonstration!