Watch ebru artist Alparslan Babaoğlu as he floats bright blue and yellow flowers on the surface of water and then transfers the piece to paper. The Turkish artist spends nine peaceful minutes shaping leaves and petals amidst a crackled background pattern in the video above. It’s a process filled with fine details, and like suminagashi, the technique has a long and storied history.
The word ebru (cloud, cloudy) or abru (water face) means in Turkish the technique of paper marbling. The term is derived from the word ebre which belongs to one of the older Central Asian languages and it means the “moiré, veined fabric, paper” used for covering some manuscripts and other holy books.
Its origin might ultimately hark back to China, where a document from the T’ang dynasty (618-907) mentions a process of colouring paper on water with five hues. Through the Silk Road, this art came first to Iran and picked up the name Ebru. Subsequently it moved towards Anatolia. Specimens of marbled paper in Turkish museums and private collections date back as far as the 15th century, but unfortunately there is no evidence to show at what date the art of marbling paper first appeared in Anatolia.
Around the end of 16th century, tradesmen, diplomats and travellers coming to Anatolia brought this art to Europe and after the 1550s, booklovers in Europe prized ebru which came to be known as “Turkish Paper” or “Turkish marbled paper making”. In the subsequent centuries of modern times, it was widely used in Italy, Germany, France and England.
While the flowers above require some precision, Babaoğlu’s skilled pattern work relies more on serendipity. Peer over his shoulder in the video below as he splatters paint across the water’s surface to create marbled paper.