The Art of Paper Marbling – Main Street, Wyoming

The Art of Paper Marbling – Main Street, Wyoming


– [Voiceover] Main
Street Wyoming is made possible
in part by grants from Kennecott Energy,
proud to be a part of Wyoming’s future in
the uranium exploration, mining and production industry and by the Wyoming Council
for the humanities. Enriching lives
of Wyoming people through the study of Wyoming
history, values and ideas. – Did you ever as
a child pick up an old book in the library and look at the swirling
patterns of color on the inside of the cover? It looked like
malachite or marble. Those smooth veins,
slabs of stone that you might see around a
fancy fireplace or desk set. You could lose yourself
in the swirling patterns. As far as I knew, those
colors in the book could have been
sliced paper thin from the rock itself, not so. This week on Main
Street Wyoming, we’re going to meet
a Casper artist who makes this beautiful paper. – [Geoff] Tom if you were
working for bookbinders and had to do an
edition of 300 copies, talk about what
that would entail. – [Tom] I’d get really bored. (soft music) – Pick up a book in
the rare book section of the library and open it. Inside the cover,
you’re likely to find a swirling pattern of
colors known as marbling It’s a technique that
dates back four centuries. Each piece of paper
is done by hand and the variety of
patterns is infinite. In those days it was
considered a craft, now it’s an art. (soft music) – My grandfather used to have a lot of old books and I think where a lot of us have
encountered marbling first is just the end
papers in old books. And I used to look
at those and I mean, really look at them
with a magnifying glass trying to figure out
just how it was done. I was thinking,
well you couldn’t really draw that,
that’s too complex. I just really had no
clue how it was done but I was fascinated
with the patterns, just fascinated with it. In, I think, 1986
I reconnected with an old friend of
mine from college who happened to mention that his girlfriend was a
marbler and that’s the first I’d heard
of marbling being done and being done now and a person who actually did it
and knew about it. I asked, “Well does
she give lessons?” And she did and I went
down to Taos New Mexico which is where they were living and took a weekend
workshop from her and I was hooked. I’ve marked the side
that I’m going to treat and what this is is a
solution of aluminum sulphate. I’m going to brush
this on the paper to be sure that the whole thing is consistently damp but
not really soaking wet. I’m wearing gloves
because this is the same essential solution
as pickling alum which anyone who’s
used that knows is a desiccant which
means it dries things and it would really do
a number on my hands if I didn’t have the gloves. After I’ve got
the paper treated, I’m going to just
slide it between some blotters to remove
the excess moisture and also keep it damp because if the paper is damp, it’s
going to be easy to handle when I’m trying
to print with it. Okay, do one more sheet. 17th century is
essentially when marbling arrived in Europe
from what is now the country of Turkey,
the Ottoman Empire and that’s the kind of marbling which is called
watercolor marbling or Ebru from the Turkish. It became quite an
art form in Germany and from there spread
to the rest of Europe and was most connected
with the book arts as I said earlier and
was used extensively up until about the
beginning of this century in book binding
and at that point, changes in the way
books were bound and the numbers of books that were being produced made it supposedly impractical
to use hand marbled paper as part of book binding. One thing I’ve recently learned that I didn’t know
is that throughout most of the 19th century even, books were frequently
sold without bindings and you would buy a book
and you would take it to a book binder
and have it bound in the leather of your choice. Like genuine cobra skin with
marbled end papers perhaps. So that practice sort of ended at the end of the 19th century and that had a lot
to do with the demise of marbling as a
commercial proposition. The liquid in the tank is
called Size in marbling and what it is, is
a mixture of water that’s been thickened
with carrageenan which is a seaweed derivative. It makes it, sort of, the
consistency of unset Jello. It thickens it enough so
that the paints will float rather than sink and
I’m just going to start by dropping color
onto the surface. The color has to be
mixed up each time because it tends to
settle really fast since it is pigment in water
with very few additives. In contrast to commercial paints which have various additives to make them brush
more easily and stuff. Things that are
positive for a painter, for instance, in the color
are negative for marblers. And with the eyedropper, I’m just going to drop a series, and this color is pretty
pale when it first sits, when it first gets
put down on the tank but it will intensify as it gets squeezed out with other colors. I’m just using
the dropper to put a whole series of
drops of color on and notice everything
is taking place right on the surface. You shouldn’t have
any paint sinking. – [Geoff] To what
do you attribute the revival in marbling? – I think a lot of the
interest started with the general revival
of interest in crafts that happened starting
during the 60’s. More specifically, it seems like since the last 70’s and through the 1980’s there’s been
a renewal of interest in small press printing
and letter press printing and fine printing
and I think marbling as one of the
traditional book arts went along with that. It’s only now that
marbling’s breaking out of specifically that
book arts context into some other areas. (soft music) We have actual
marbling set up as part of the art program in some
of the Casper schools, so they have their
own equipment. But I also have gone to schools where I have taken
the equipment, set it up and the
kids have marbled for a day, two days for
however and it’s great. For kids, it’s one
thing that they can get really satisfying
results right away but they can also,
each time they marble, they can see, well
if I used that color instead of this color I would
have something different. In other words, it’s not
something that you do that’s exciting
and then it’s over. It’s something
that they can see, they can go on with if they want and just because of the
nature of the process, it’s really involving
and that’s also a good thing for kids. And kids approach it without
a lot of inhibitions. I mean they don’t know
what you can and can’t do. They don’t know
there’s 100’s of years of marbling
tradition that’s hard to break out of sometimes. So they’ll just do things. I mean they’ll do things
that are phenomenal that I’ll think, well that
couldn’t possibly work but woo it does. I always steal some
good ideas from kids. The cat wants to be marbled From Australia, from Britain. What this kitty is
probably interested in is the Ox gall in the paint. Ox gall is a
dispersant that I use in the paint and it’s
a fluid that comes from the gall bladders of cattle. It’s used as a
dispersant and it also is part of the chemical reaction that will bind the
color to the paper. Hopefully the
kitty will not want to take a swim. – [Geoff] Do cat
whiskers give you a particularly– – [Tom] Yes. – [Geoff] fun design. – [Tom] I tell
people that cat hairs on the marble paper are
a mark of authenticity. They’ll know it’s
my marbled paper. The behavior of
liquids and the surface tension phenomena is
such that what you get are regular things happening but with a certain degree
of unpredictability. In other words,
they’re figuring out, through mathematical theory, that randomness has
a pattern to it. Randomness isn’t really random in the sense of like
total unorganized chaos. Things have patterns
to it and to figure out the mathematical
models for these things is fairly sophisticated
and has to do a lot with, I think
it’s Boolean algebra or untraditional
kinds of thinking in both math and physics. But they are actually
defining some of these seemingly random
things like a (mumbles) in liquids on the surface
of a marbling tank and when they can define
those mathematically, they can get that math to behave on your computer
screen in a certain way that you have computer marbling The chemistry, the physics,
the math to marbling is a pretty amazing
thing that I don’t really understand a lot about but that certainly
suggests a lot of different approaches for
computer software that marbles. These rakes are
made in such a way that they fit in the tank and against the rim of the tank. I’m holding it against
this side of the tank, I’m going to bring it across and the teeth are
spaced so that then, when I bring it back, if I shove it up
so it rests against the other room of the tank, this pass will bisect
the first pass. Okay so it’s starting to change from the round circles
to drops of color into a little pattern. This is a way of just
spreading out the color in preparation for
whatever pattern I’m going to end up with. You figure out the order
you rake and comb in and you’ll know
what patter you’re going to come out with. This works exactly the same way except up and down in the tank instead of back and forth. All these patterns have names from when they used
to use the paper for book binding in
the 19th century. This one I’m just doing is
called a Cascade pattern. If I bring it back up
like that bisecting that first pass, it’s now
called a Feather pattern. Then I’m going to
repeat that across and back pass with
the longer rake. – [Geoff] Tom, if
you were working for book binders and had to do an edition of 300 copies, talk about what
that would entail. – [Tom] I’d get really bored but some marblers
do make a living at doing edition papers
and what you have to do is remember, of course,
the colors you use, the order in which you
have used the colors and then the particular
combs and rakes you’ve used and in what
order you’ve used them. So it’s possible to get a paper, it wouldn’t be
photocopy identical but it would be the same paper throughout the edition of 500. And again, when this was used in the last century
for book binding, the thing is, the suppliers
would have catalogs and you’d pick
patterns and you would be assured that those patterns would be consistent
throughout the run. This is a comb
which means it has a finer tooth spacing and when the tooth spacing is that fine, you just want to bring
it in one direction, you don’t want to
bring it up and back because it would
undo what you did if you tried to do
it two directions. The pattern is looking
a little less defined as I get it combed out finer but when we get it on the paper, that definition will
be more apparent. And one thing that
I had to think about when I started
marbling that I really hadn’t paid too much attention
to in school is color theory. The use of dark and light colors next to one another
for contrast. Just what certain
colors look like next to one another. I have choices of what tools I’m going to use at any point depending on what I
want to come out with. This, I think we’ll
just do a kind of a little curvy
business down there that’s going to transform that straight, fine cascade into a more curvy type of deal, okay. And that’s probably
about as much as I’m going to comb it. I could maybe take
another step or two but even though the
colors will never physically mix with one another, if I get them
combed out too fine, it might turn out
so it would look to your eye like it was mixed and it’s the same as
mixing every color in your paint box. If you do, you come
out with a muddy brown. America is probably
where the most exciting things are happening. But there is a lot of marbling going on in Northern
Europe and in Italy. Marbling originally
came to America, we’re sure, through Britain. There’s still a lot
of marbling being done in England and in
all the countries that were part of
the British Empire. Australia, South Africa and
marbling in France and Germany. The original marbling
came from Turkey to Germany and there
spread out all over Europe. There’s also a Japanese marbling called Suminagashi
which is probably the origin of marbling Both European and Asian and then the two forms departed
from one another at one point but
there’s also a tradition of Suminagashi and there are Suminagashi marblers
both in this country and of course in Japan
and other countries. So, I can pick it right up. And that’s the result. You’ll notice that
the color looks somewhat different on the paper then it did on the tank. Sometimes you can
get real surprises. The last step in
this process is going to be to rinse the paper. We just do that to get any Size that’s come off under the paper and if there’s a
little excess color, that will rinse
off but basically, the color will
stay on the paper. It’s been on there by
a chemical reaction so we don’t get any color
coming off (mumbles) and then we’re just going
to hang it up to dry. It’s going to be ready
to use for whatever. Usually in Wyoming,
the humidity we have, that will be dry in
about 10 minutes. – This is Tom West’s
home and studio. He’s serious about marbling but as you can see, he’s got a whimsical side too. It’s not the sort of
studio you’d expect to find in a town like Casper
or the sort of life. – [Tom] The idea content is what really interests me about art. And the kind of innovation
both technically and intellectually
is interesting and I think the standard, like I say, moose
and meadow standard titans may be interesting, maybe pretty, maybe decorative but it isn’t the kind
of art I want around me and I think there
are other things, that to me, tell me more,
communicate more, say more. – You have roots here in Casper but is there any other
reasons involving your art that you would
want to be located here? – I like Casper and
I shouldn’t say that in such a defensive
way probably. I do like Casper. I have friends from the coast that come to Casper just because they think it’s so weird. And I can understand that. I can see that. If you grow up in a
metropolitan area, it’s definitely a
different kind of place. I don’t know, having
grown up here, I’m sure has an
awful lot to do with why I feel comfortable here. There’s also the
thing of in a town the size of Casper,
I personally, I think can make an impact
on certain things. I do a lot of work with
the Nicolaysen Art Museum. I am able to go
around to schools and to talk to kids and to work
with kids, things like that. In other words, I
feel that I’m really a part of this community partly because of it’s
size, partly because I know people in the community because I grew up here. I feel that I’m a
part of the community can have some input
into the community and this community nourishes me in those ways too. I have a following
of people here who like my work and
that are into my work. It’s a comfortable place
to live all around. It’s not the kind of
market to talk about art as a commodity in
the market place. – Did you get much encouragement from your art teachers in
the schools of Wyoming? – I didn’t feel that
opportunities were closed off but I didn’t feel a lot of
encouragement necessarily. I think back in those days, what I remember of art classes were you just sit around and cut linoleum blocks or you draw and there was not
a lot of direction given to it, not
a lot of emphases on what ideas could be
behind art, things like that. But I had fun doing it
and I always liked it. – Where did you get
your art education? – After I graduated
from high school here I went to Occidental
College which is a small liberal arts
college in Los Angeles and spent four years and got an undergraduate degree from there. It was an interesting time. It was 1966 to 1970
which was the place to be was in L.A. in the 60’s. So I gained, I think,
more just from being there then I did academically. What was happening at a lot
of colleges at that time was that the authorities, the establishment of
academe was backing off of a lot of the three
R’s type of stuff in favor of independent study, in favor of all those
things that happened during the 60’s that
changed academic life and consequently,
there was a lot of experimentation
in various ways going on but not a lot
of the nuts and bolts like I was saying, color theory and figure drawing,
things like that. It might have been there but
nobody was paying attention. We were all too busy. Anti war marches
and social activity. – Has the political content
of some of your work caused you any problems? – It hasn’t really. I usually tell
teachers before hand that some of the
pieces I’m going to be bringing to show the kids have political or
social points to them and that can engender
really good discussion. Part of the
important thing to me is that business I
was talking about a little earlier, is
that art is really a form of
communication and if we get into a debate on that, well why did you
choose this idea? And isn’t art
supposed to be pretty and something that’s not
going to cause controversy? I mean that’s a good opening for a lot of thoughts
about what art is and does and can do. This piece is called
Reagan/Bush Memorial. It’s typical in construction, typical of the clocks I make and I picked up the techniques used in building
these clocks when I was building architectural
models for several years. This particular piece,
the Reagan/Bush Memorial, started out as
just an idea that, gosh these people
plundered America for a number of years
and they deserve to be memorialized for it. Aesthetically, the
idea came about as a contrast between
an official monument and a reaction to that monument which in this case is
the graffiti on it. This is an obviously, a pretty
pointed piece politically. I usually take this
piece when I go to talk to school groups because it can sometimes engender some pretty good discussion
about the role of art, about what art
can and can’t say. Some of the graffiti
on this clock is pretty down and dirty in terms of political points. It engenders good discussion. (soft music) The idea of Wyoming art, if people think of Wyoming art, it sometimes very specific
to that realistic aesthetic. Every once in a while
at the Nicolaysen Museum there are complaints that why don’t we show Wyoming artists? I would say that
70% of the artists shown are from Wyoming but what the people
who ask that mean is why don’t we show
what they perceive as being Wyoming
art which again, is that realistic western
or mountain scene aesthetic. Someone just recently
told me that one of the software
companies is working on a program so that you
can marble on computer which theoretically, the
math of it is right there. Chaos theory
explains some things that happen in
marbling and that’s something that,
fractals is something that happens in marbling, that happens on
the computer screen so it will be
interesting to see. I was joking earlier
that when they come out with these programs we can throw away
our marbling tanks and just do it all on computer. – [Geoff] In the not
to distant future, computers will be able
to make these patterns and no one will have to
get paint on his clothes. Will we be able to tell? I hope so. At Tom West’s marbling tank, the hands of the artist
are still essential. (soft music) – [Voiceover] Main
Street Wyoming is made possible in part by
grants from Kennecott Energy. Proud to be a part
of Wyoming’s future in the uranium exploration, mining and production industry. And by the Wyoming Council
for the Humanities. Enriching lives
of Wyoming people through the study of Wyoming
history, values and ideas.

Dereck Turner

7 thoughts on “The Art of Paper Marbling – Main Street, Wyoming

  1. Patricia Jimenez says:

    Thank you! I really enjoyed this video!

  2. Anna Nicholson says:

    talented and knowledgeable.

  3. thehistorystory says:

    http://thenic.org/portfolio-archive/tom-west/

  4. Kat nip says:

    Wow! Great video! I got more than I expected.

  5. Martha West says:

    So amazing.😊❣️🤩

  6. carlos zayas says:

    I took a like of information in my life, I teach a lot too. But this is the best way to learn, a nice, good and easily understood complete explanation. I loved!

  7. Kathy Machen says:

    Where does one get ox gall and the seaweed derivative ?

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