The Art of Ebru or Paper Marbling with Sophie Daly

Thanks to funding from Halifax Foundation NI, we’re delighted to bring you a new series of online art workshops by local artists Sophie Daly, Paul Mulgrew and Sinead O’Neill-Nicholl. Each artist has chosen two themes for workshops from influences or moments in the history of visual art which inspire them, and which they’d like to share with you! Today Sophie Daly will demonstrate a way that you can try out the beautiful, traditional technique of paper marbling.

Paper marbling is a type of art where you paint on the surface of specially treated water, and then print that image onto a piece of paper by dipping it into the water. The patterns look kind of like marble, and that is where it gets its name. It is popular in the endpapers of books and on stationary, and every print is unique and cannot be replicated.

There are many variations of paper marbling around the world. There is suminagashi found in Japan, and Ebru found in Western Asia, particularly in Turkey where it is a very popular artform and has been for centuries. The artworks pictured above were made by Hatip Mehmed Efendi in the 17th century.

Most of the time the art created by this technique is very abstract – which our prints will be too.

You will need:

  • A plastic box, like a lunch box
  • A squeegee
  • Shaving foam
  • Paper and cardboard
  • Food colouring
  • A ruler
  • A pointy stick of some kind – I’m using a chopstick!

Fill your box full of shaving foam. You can use a gel; you just have to mix it to foam it up! If it is really stiff to work with, add a tiny bit of water at a time to make it loosen up. Don’t add a lot because foam won’t drip and make a mess, unlike water. I use a piece of cardboard to flatten the foam and fill the corners.

Now, get to painting! Squeeze the food colouring where you want to colour to go, and swirl with your stick. Get creative with your colours and don’t be precious with your drawing, this method works best when you want to make pretty abstract colours and patterns. It will be very difficult to paint a recognisable picture.

Place your paper on the foam, make sure it is touching the foam completely by pressing it down all over. Make sure your paper fits completely inside the box you used.

 To protect my table, I am putting a big piece of cardboard underneath my box. Lift the paper up, and you will see that the foam doesn’t look like your design anymore, but don’t worry, this is supposed to happen, and it will still be there when you squeegee it off. However, you can’t repeat the same design twice, which is what I love about marbling!

Put the paper face up on the cardboard. Drag your squeegee along the whole page with pressure, to take off all the foam. There you have your first print!

Let’s give cardboard a try now. It works just as well on cardboard too, and it would be wonderful to use paper or cardboard that you are thinking of throwing away. It will look less vibrant than how it does on white paper, but I really like the subtle look, and it makes me want to draw over it! Which you can, after it dries.

You may need to change out the foam after every 2nd or 3rd use to stop it getting too muddy, which I did after my 3rd print.

Congratulations! You’re a natural-born paper marbler!

We’d love to see pictures of your designs, please email us on or tag us on social media!

Download the full instructions here:

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