EBRU (Water-Marbling)

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One of the most unique and beautiful forms of Turkish art is Ebru, or water marbling. Ebru is formed by drawing designs with dye on top of water, and then carefully placing paper on the surface of the water in order to absorb the dye.

The earliest examples of Ebru are found in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, and are dated 1539, but the detail and quality of the work suggests that Ebru was present long before this time in the Ottoman Empire. Ebru has traditionally been rarely signed, and therefore many great artists remain unnamed. Modern day students may study for more than 10 years before being considered master marblers, learning how to make the perfect dye, water bath, and design. Since each dye bath can only be transferred to paper once, every original piece of Ebru is unique.

The first step in Ebru is getting the perfect dye. Dyes are created from various organic substances. Soil from Istanbul, white lead, indigo from Pakistan, and red ochre are used to create the perfect color. 24-karat gold may be added to the dye in order to provide shimmer and shine. The dye is mixed with ox-gall, and water, an art form in itself, since each dye is unique depending on the time of year collected, its age, and its fineness. Ebru artists often spend years simply learning the art of mixing dye, before ever attempting their first marble.

The next step in Ebru is getting the perfect water bath in which to place the dye. White kitre, a gum like substance, must be place in the Ebru water in order to keep the dye design in place and in order to allow the design to stick to the paper. Fresh kitre is available in herbal shops during the fall, and every marbler buys enough kitre to last an entire year. The density of the kitre, along with the type of water being used, requires the marbler to make many attempts before getting the correct stickiness. Too little, and the design spreads before it can be finished and won�t adhere clearly to the paper. Too much, and the paper becomes difficult to remove, again smearing the design. Once the correct balance of kitre and water is achieved, the mixture is left overnight, with occasional stirring. After four days of settling, the water mixture is poured through a cloth bag, and is then finally ready to be used.

Next, the marbler gathers her homemade horsehair brushes for detail work, needles for dropping dye onto the water, and homemade combs for drawing the dye through the water. The water is placed in a tray, only slightly larger than the paper to be used.

Now, the creative portion of the work begins. Using only a mental idea of the finished product, the marbler drops dye onto the water surface with the needles, spreads the dye with the handmade combs, and uses the brushes to draw a design. Flowers, birds, geometric designs, and calligraphy are common choices for the Ebru artist.

Ebru is often used for bookmarks, inside the bindings of books, for wall hangings, and to surround both Arabic and Turkish calligraphy. The next time you visit the beautiful bazaars of Istanbul, make sure that you don�t consider leaving without picking up a beautiful piece of Turkish culture, a totally unique, handmade Ebru.