Louise Brockman produces beautifully sumptuous marbled papers for bookbinders and other lucky recipients including, for the first time, us. This festive season we have worked closely with Louise to create our own marbled artwork; a fantastical celebration of the diverse colours of our whiskies, from amber to ruby red (with a dash of our copper stills). She has conjured up something magical, which can be seen across our website, and we wanted to know more about just how she does it. What is this alchemic mixture of art and science and how exactly does it work? We tracked her down to find the answers.
Louise, are you a paper freak?
Oh yes, I can’t resist it. If I see something I like I have to stroke it, smell it and of course, work out how it was made!
How did you get into this?
I did my bachelor degree in Environmental Biology and went on to do a PGCE, then taught science at secondary school. But I’m married to a bookbinder, so spending time in the bindery brought me into contact with this world of decorative paper. After a while I realised that I had the knowledge to give it a try.
Did your background help?
Yes, marbling is very science-based. To achieve the patterns you balance the amounts of paint, water and ‘size’ in precise measure.
‘Size’ is a substance made from gelatinous seaweed powder, a thickening agent. You mix it with water to the thickness you want. It is essential to the process.
You start with a tank of water, and when the size is dropped onto the water it forms globules on the surface. It won’t mix, it just sits on top of the surface. This can be fat thick globs or thinner, they give different effects. The paint is added by brush, dropped onto the surface of the globules of size that are floating on top of the water.
I can target the paint precisely on the globules, and more than one colour can be dropped on the same globule. You can manipulate the globules into various patterns by drawing a stylus or another implement across the surface too, some marbling styles use a comb for this to give a feathered effect. That paint then sits on the surface of the size, keeping it away from the water but offering it straight to the surface of the paper.
Whatever paper I have chosen is treated with a mordant, a sort of fixative that enables the paint to stick to the paper.
So the science really is key. I teach students to marble, and I’ve noticed that they get better results when they understand the science behind it.
The paint colours look so rich, tell me about that?
I use gouache, and it’s applied with a brush. If the brush is wet it will drop diluted paint and the colour will be muted, if the brush is dry it’ll be more saturated, and therefore bolder.
The finished piece also differs with your choice of paper, it’s colour, texture and type.
I see a big tank in your studio for the water. What size is that?
Mine is just under A1, which is an odd size. I realised after I had it made that I had used my ‘natural wingspan’ as a size-guide. It means I can handle the largest piece of paper coming out of the tank by myself!
Tell me about your journey to make our beautiful paper
It was great, I’ve never worked for a distillery before, so I started with the colours in your whisky. You have a large spectrum so it was fun to see the differences. The Red Red Rye was inspiring and I used a deep red base paper. The copper enhances the richness and gives it a festive feel. As your paper was a ‘one off’ it gave me the chance to be really creative.
The best explanation is to contrast it with a previous job. I had to produce 300 identical pieces of paper for a limited-edition book release. Uniformity is extremely tricky and requires absolute concentration. You have to weigh, measure and record all elements precisely and there is no room for error.
The distillery brief was creatively liberating, as you only needed one piece of work. I could experiment, go mad with colour, and the odd air bubble didn’t matter.
Where else does your paper go?
It is mostly used in bookbinding, but also in other creative pursuits; card making, decoupage, even jewellery and beadmaking. To make beads I twist strips of the paper around cocktail sticks and varnish it. I make them whenever I am sitting down, and have even persuaded my husband to make them when he’s not doing anything else with his hands. We sit in front of the TV twiddling cocktail sticks together!
That’s a lovely mental image to leave us with. Louise, thanks very much for conducting us through your amazing world.
For more information or to contact Louise visit https://brockmanbookbinders.org/marbled-paper/.