Ebru, the Turkish Art of Marbling
Ebru is the traditional Turkish art of creating colourful patterns by sprinkling and brushing colour pigments onto a pan of oily water and then transferring the patterns to paper. Known as marbling, the designs and effects include flowers, foliage, ornamentation, latticework, mosques and moons, and are used for decoration in the traditional art of bookbinding. The practitioner uses natural methods to extract colours from natural pigments, which are then mixed with a few drops of ox-gall, a kind of natural acid, before sprinkling and brushing the colours onto a preparation of condensed liquid, where they float and form swirling patterns. Ebru artists, apprentices and practitioners consider their art to be an integral part of their traditional culture, identity and lifestyle. Their knowledge and skills, as well as the philosophy behind this art, are transmitted orally and through informal practical training within master-apprentice relationships. Achieving basic skills in Ebru takes at least two years. The tradition is practised without barrier of age, gender or ethnicity, and plays a significant role in the empowerment of women and the improvement of community relationships. The collective art of Ebru encourages dialogue through friendly conversation, reinforces social ties and strengthens relations between individuals and communities.
The History of This Unique Aqueous Ancient Art
Ebru is one of the oldest Turkish arts, but exactly where or when it started remains unknown. Ebru is an art from the realms of history, presenting to us a beauty that is full of love. It can be described as painting on water. Patterns are formed on the surface of water which has had substances added to it to increase the viscosity; the patterns are then transferred to paper. The results of this process are unique and it is never possible to achieve the same design again.
Those who have traced the history claim that the many hued Ebru that we know today was born in Turkistan in Central Asia, a place that was the center for many cultures. From the 17th century on, it became known as Turkish Paper in Europe, and from here the art of Ebru reached the rest of the world.
The Turks started to make paper in the 15th century. With their sensitive souls and their mystic personalities they became very advanced in the art of paper decoration. Ebru paper, especially those of a fine design, was first used as the background to important official state papers, a variety of treaties and the records of important events. It was used as a means to prevent the alteration of the document. The same logic can be found in the use of complicated designs on banknotes, cheque books, deeds and bonds used today. In addition, the edges of commercial registers were decorated with Ebru in order to prevent the removal of pages. Ebru holds an important place in the history of Islamic art; it was used alongside calligraphy and in publishing. Moreover, its mystic nature, that is, “the search for religious beauty”, led to its being used in many tekkes as a reflection of sufi thought.