By Kerry Turner
On a Thursday evening in February, I attended the Ebru: Turkish Marbling program at the Upper St. Clair Township Library. For a third time since January, USC resident Gulay Baltali came to teach this form of art to library patrons. New to USC, Gulay moved here in summer 2018 with her husband, son, and newborn daughter. Prior to teaching Ebru, Gulay studied this form of art for several years.
This particular class included ten participants of varying ages who were excited to learn this ethnic art form. Gulay, who has been practicing the art of Ebru since learning it in Istanbul over a decade ago, was warm, welcoming, and patient. Realizing the class was scheduled for only two hours, she was also quite punctual—there was so much to learn in so little time!
Gulay introduced the event by explaining the tools and setup. The special brushes that were laid out before us were made from rose stems and horsehair. The wetting agent in the pan was a mixture of water and powdered seaweed, and was quite slimy. The paints, also all natural, were mixed with ox gall. No oils or chemicals were used in the process.
Gulay first demonstrated the basic process, after which we tried it ourselves. We dipped our brushes into the colored paint one at a time and stirred. Then, between our fingers, we squeezed out the extra liquid before gently tapping the brush on our forefinger, which splattered the color into the pan containing the water solution. We repeated this stir-squeeze-splatter method for each color we used. It was interesting that the colors didn’t mix together, but rather, layered themselves on top of one another and on top of the water solution.
As instruction continued, Gulay showed us different techniques to mix the colors and create the designs we desired. We learned how to create a background using freeform or the give-and-go technique using a pin. We then learned how to create hearts, leaves, and flowers on top of the background colors. Once our pan full of colors had the desired design, it was paper time!
Gulay encouraged us to play around with different movements to see what they would create, but she moved us along quickly, suggesting that there are no mistakes and you shouldn’t spend too much time trying to get it perfect. “Paper time,” Gulay would say as our cue.
Writing our name on the paper was first. Then we took the paper and laid it inside the pan on top of the solution. Carefully removing any air bubbles by gently smoothing out the paper with our hands, we were instructed not to push the paper below the surface of the water solution. The next step was to pull the paper out, using the edge of the pan as a squeegee to remove excess liquid from the paper. We were amazed that the process didn’t remove the color from the paper and how the paper picked up all the coloring from the solution.
Even though we had the same color choices to pick from, each of the ten creations was unique because of how we layered the colors differently. By the end of the evening, the room was filled with beautiful artwork, laid out to dry. The next morning, they were ready to be taken home. Gulay suggested a few projects that we could create from our art: bookmarks to greeting cards. She also shared with us a framed picture of her art.
Welcome to the community, Gulay, and thank you for sharing your talent and knowledge with us. We are also grateful to the library for offering this opportunity.
Readers who find this article interesting should sign up the next time this class is offered. You won’t be disappointed!