Painting on water? While it seems almost inconceivable to create a work of art on the surface of water, this is the process of ebru, or Turkish marble painting that may have originated from China’s Tang Dynasty with the earliest examples in Turkey appearing during the Ottoman-Turkish Empire in the 16th century. Regardless of its history or origins, ebru is a fascinating art form that takes precision and patience to create beautiful works of art that mimic the appearance of the stone it is named after.
During my time in Istanbul, I had the opportunity to create an ebru of my own in an unexpected place that was full of art and beauty that we’ll travel to in today’s Virtual Field Trip to Turkey.
Learning Ebru at Caferaga Medresesi
Down an almost private sidewalk flanking houses occupied by political leaders and celebrities during their time in Istanbul that led away from Topkapi Palace and practically in the shadow of the Blue Mosque is Caferaga Medresesi.
It’s almost easy to miss this treasure of Turkish art and culture, especially if you aren’t looking for it because you’re distracted by the colorful ceramics sold by vendors near the entrance. But the colorful hand painted bowls occupying the entire surface of a table that are sized to fit in the palm of your hand should be a sign that you’re nearby.
Just look for a yellowish brown almost triangular house. To the left is a red sign for Caferaga Medresesi.
Once you head down a small staircase flanked by vines, you’re almost there. Down the stairs and through the doorway you’ll find a sunny courtyard whose air is filled with quiet productivity.
Look closely and you’ll find that the round and square tables are occupied with mosaic patterns in process. The designs look familiar to those just seen at Topkapi Palace but are made of more modern materials like synthetic tiles using the scissors and Sharpie markers nearby.
In the farthest corner from the entrance, a woman stood over a pan of water.
Jars holding vibrant colors of paint stood at the ready and also within arm’s reach, a lacy metal cup tinted with pigment soaked paintbrushes.
Tapping the brush against her fingers flicked blue pigment on to the water below in a seemingly careless fashion but the gestures that followed were far more intentional.
Reaching towards a jar, she drew out a wooden handled tool with a metal tip and dotted the surface with paint. The longer that the metal tip was in the water, the larger the circle of paint around it grew. When the circle was to her liking, she withdrew the metal instrument and wiped it on a paper towel, repeating it until the water canvas was dotted with different colors of pigment circles.
Carefully inserting the dry tip into just the right place in the pigment, the circle changes shape as intentional movements are made to create different shapes.
Suddenly a green circle becomes a leaf. A multicolored ring takes the shape of a tulip.
It’s an incredible sight to see and is zen to watch but not so zen when you’re the one wanting holding the metal wand manipulating the pigments on the water’s surface just so but the results are stunning! Look how differently these turned out!
To see the entire ebru process, this video gives you a good sense of the process we went through to create our masterpieces above.
Stunning Example of Wall Size Water Marbling
Ebru can be done on any size paper. The only constraint is the size of the pan that holds your water. Take a look at this video of the creation of a wall-size ebru!
DIY Water Marbling
If you want to try it yourself, there are an abundance of YouTube videos for water marbling nail art using nail polish but I liked this 4 minute tutorial for making a water marble mobile phone case. Just like ebru where the watercolor pigments are floated on the surface, dropping nail polish on the surface and making lines through them with a cuticle stick is a fun way you can try the art of marbling to customize an iPhone case.
To learn more about ebru, visit the Turkish Cultural Foundation: The Turkish Art of Marbling
To read other posts from my Virtual Field Trip #LoveFromTurkey to #WidenYourWorld series, visit these links and come back next week where we’ll be visiting Cappadocia in Turkey’s Anatolia region to explore fairy chimneys and caves!
- Art– Ebru paper marbling and ceramics
- Food– 8 Family Friendly Dishes from Turkey to Make at Home (includes simit, irmik helfasi, kebab, dolmas, dondurma, midye dolma, Turkish coffee, spices, and more!)
- Geography– Where in the World is Turkey: Finding Turkey on a Map & Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys and caves
- History– The Silk Road and importance of caravanserais
- Religion– An Introduction to Mosques in Turkey
- Math– Converting money from dollars to Turkish Lira
- Music & Dance– The Sufi Whirling Dervishes
- Science & Engineering– Turkish Airlines Flight Training Center
- Writing– Calligraphy
Huge thanks to Turkish Airlines for extending a very generous invitation for me to join them in flying business class to Turkey during the #LoveFromTurkey #WidenYourWorld May 2015 blogger trip and organizing and funding my adventures in Istanbul and beyond. All opinions are my own. Images taken with the Samsung NX1 and NXMini.