'Ebru': Tracing an artist's inner realm

Turkish marbling

A  classic Ottoman art, Turkish marbling is believed to have been invented around the 13th century in Turkistan, and practiced in Turkey for over 500 years.

This phantasm-bound yet realistic art also spread to countries like China, India, Persia and Anatolia, and is said to have been brought to European countries like France, Italy and Germany in the 16th century. Some of the oldest ebru is also strangely known to have been constructed in the 9th century. Its origins, therefore, cannot be attributed to a specific date.

Unlike regular painting or engraving, ebru is the art of forming patterns out of insoluble paint, which when dropped into viscous water, spreads upon hitting the surface, and takes shape naturally, and as construed by the marbler. Colours in varied shapes and patterns, floating on this viscous solution are transferred to an absorbent material, in some cases fabric or paper, to create the ensuant picturesque creation.

Other than fabric and paper, the floating-on-liquid coloured images are also transferred to wood, ceramics and leather. This method of designing and producing textures or patterns similar to that of marble gives us an illusion of the surface being almost like real marble. Wherever the colour or the fabric paint touches the fabric or the paper, it coheres to it. Thus, when a swirl of colours is carried from water to a newer background, each consequent print that is formed becomes unique.

The Turkish word ebru means clouds, or an artist’s inner kingdom, and this world, inside of the artist, is transferred onto a solid surface by this method. The most popular use of these pieces of patterns is to frame them and use them as ornamental paintings.

It is also used as the paper surface for bookbinding, manuscripts, calligraphies, and book covers. Nowadays, they are also used as lamp shades, picture frames, wine labels and fine art.

Mastery in the art of ebru comes from practice. Large ebru tide or wave ebru, shawl ebru, floral ebru, nightingale ebru, comb ebru, light ebru, sandy ebru, written ebru, are some of the major forms. The technique of marbling is passed from one generation of artists to another, following a tradition of knowledge dissemination from the master to the apprentice.

Ebru is a co-mingling of nature, and the artist. The artists’ temperament, how light their hand is, and the environmental conditions are also said to have an effect on the final creation. An ebru artist must attain command over the behavioural patterns of paint. When paint touches the liquid surface, it either sinks to the bottom of the trough or tray, or floats like a sophisticated charm on it. Each creation
is a masterpiece, as each hued droplet poured on dense water takes a peculiar form of its own, and as steered by the
artist.

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