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 studio notes 

 look over the artist's shoulder 


A finished piece does not start on the final sheet of paper. The studio notes give you a chance to look over Julia Silbermann's shoulder as she works. Learn more about the work process on a piece, about the materials that were being used, see sketches and work ups that lead to the final artwork. 
If you enjoy reading the studio notes, consider following Jubs Art's personal blog on Facebook or Instagram.

Ruled lines in Medieval Manuscripts

In medieval manuscripts, lines were ruled with either a lead stylus, with Minium or in the way you see in this picture. In this case the lines were pressed into the vellum with a stylus and without the use of any color. This treatment resulted in ridges on the back side of the vellum (as shown here) and "valleys" on the front side of the vellum. The writing was done between the lines, rather then on the lines.
(Photo:  taken in special collections, Duke Perkins Library, Durham, NC ©Julia Silbermann, 2012)

Ruled Lines in Medieval Manuscripts


Forget How to Read

Letters are all around us in our everyday life. They are mainly used to emphasize and deliver information. We cannot help but start to read as soon as we encounter them. It is a challenge to distance ourselves from reading, unless the writing is in an unfamiliar language, writing style or hand.

But when, by whatever means, we achieve to get an undisguised look on the graphical, pictographic, emblematic and textural qualities of letters, we get enchanted by the fine balances between black and white, lines and shapes, space and counterspace, writing and white space.

“Letters act as practical and useful signs, but also as pure and inner melody.” (Wassily Kandinsky)


Forget How to Read

The Making of "The Scribe"

The Making of "The Scribe"

Gouache, Miniatum Ink and 23k Gold Leaf on Arches Watercolor Hot Press Paper.


The following is a description of the work process. To read the full artist statement, please click here.


When the decision was made to write the Scribe’s quote with alternating English and Latin lines, the Initial “O”, which marks the beginning of both the quote in English and in Latin, was designed first. 

It was sketched out in pencil on tracing paper and traced several times to clear up the final outlines. These outlines were photocopied and the copies used to carry out different choices of colors and styles for the illustration within the counter of the letter.

Then began the preparatory work for the writing. In many stages of trying different nibs, nib sizes and colors, a final decision was made on using Prussian Blue and a #3 Mitchell nib for the pressurized Italic and on a 1.5 mm TAPE nib using Miniatum Ink to lay the base for the 23K Gold Leaf for the Carolingian. 

The layout of the text together with the Initial determined the width of the borders, which needed to be drawn next. The borders were drawn with a mechanical pencil, based on previous sketches for the 20 illustrations, that the borders were to contain.
On a light table the borders and the initial were then traced on the final sheet of paper, after all guidelines and slant lines had been ruled. 

The English text in pressurized Italic was written first, line by line, with the paper strips from the final mock up lying below the guidelines. Afterwards the Latin text was written with Miniatum Ink, which served as the base for the 23 K gold leaf. 
To protect the blue Gouache writing from skin oils and abrasion while filling in the gilded lines, it was covered with Glassine paper, which left an opening just big enough to write one line of Carolingian at a time. That one line was then gilded immediately, even before the next line of Miniatum Ink was written. 

This line-by-line-procedure was necessary to keep the Miniatum Ink from drying out and therefore losing its adhesiveness towards the gold leaf. During the gilding process the glassine also kept the gold leaf from sticking to the binders in the Gouache of the Italic writing.

When the writing was finished, the details in the borders and the Initial were gilded, before they were drawn in Gouache with a Brause #513 nib. 
(click photos to enlarge and for individual comments)

(read full artist statement here)

Suminagashi Tutorial

Tutorial: Monochrome Suminagashi


Suminagashi” means “floating ink.” The oldest example of this marbling technique appears in 12th century Japan. A brush filled with Sumi ink is used to create concentric rings and patterns on water, which are then transferred to paper.

You can buy Suminagashi marbling kits from Boku Undo, including marbling float paper that helps to apply the ink to the water. But I wanted to figure it out without the help of a kit. The following instructions describe what I found. I worked monochrome, but, of course, you can add any color you like. 


  • Two flat containers, one for Suminagashi, one for rinsing your paper.

  • Water (use about 2” of water in each container)

  • Sumi Ink in a small bowl or dish. If you use hand ground ink, pour it into a dish as well. DON’T leave it on your ink stone. The surfactants will affect your stone.

  • Small bowl or dish with water

  • Newsprint

  • Two Sumi brushes or pointed watercolor brushes, medium size

  • Paper of choice

  • Drying surface, (paper molds, but cotton

    towels work as well)

  • Surfactants: Ox-Gall or Kodak Photo-Flo

  • A few nails, straws and/or toothpicks 



Before you start


The Process



Choosing your paper


The choice of paper is crucial for the results. Always make swatches first, before you try to marble bigger sheets. Traditionally Suminagashi is done on rice paper, but any absorbent material works, even fabric. The marbling results will vary in opacity, depending on your choice. 

Above: Frankfurt Paper
Below: Rice Paper



“Surfactants” or “dispersants” are mixed into the ink to decrease its surface tension, so the ink floats much easier and longer on the water, which then has a higher surface tension than the ink. Surfactants are also mixed into the water that you use to create transparent circles in your marbling pattern.

Traditionally, pine resin or pine oil were used for this purpose. But Ox-Gall and Photo-Flo work just as well. You only need a few drops of surfactant mixed into your ink. Avoid dish soap; it is not archival and will later cause the paper to decompose. Photo Flo is available online or in camera stores that still sell dark room materials. Art supply stores usually have Ox-Gall in stock. 

 Have two little bowls ready, one with Sumi Ink and one with water. 


Add a few drops of Ox-Gall or Photo-Flo to each bowl and mix. DON’T add any surfactant to the water in your big marbling container, or the ink will sink immediately! 

Fill your flat containers with 2” of water. Do the marbling in one of them; use the water in the other one to carefully rinse your pages. 

Skim the water surface in your marbling container with newsprint to remove dust and other particles. They might keep the ink from expanding. 

Dampen both your brushes. Fill one brush from the Sumi Ink bowl. Remove some excess. The ink should not drip from the brush. Do the same on the second brush with water from the other bowl. 

Skim the water surface in your marbling container with newsprint to remove dust and other particles. They might keep the ink from expanding. 

With the very tip of your
ink brush,
touch the water surface. A floating black circle will appear. If the ink sinks in right away, your brush is too full or the ink is too thick. Dilute it with a little water or carefully add more surfactant. 

Now, in the center of the black circle, put down the tip of your water-filled brush. A transparent circle will form. (See picture) 

Keep alternating the last
two steps
. The circles will expand to the outside. When the pattern is large enough, you can either transfer it as it is, or slightly blow over the surface to create movement in the pattern. A straw can help you to control the air ow. Add even more texture by carefully moving a nail or a tooth pick through the rings.
A beautiful alternative to the circles is just dripping the ink from your brush onto the water by tapping the brush handle against your finger. Afterwards add texture as described above. (See below) 

Pick up your paper by holding it on two diagonally opposite edges.  

In one slow continuous movement, from the center outwards, put your paper on the water surface. 

The ink transfer happens immediately. To avoid blurring of your print, submerse the whole sheet under water and move it gently back and forth.  

Remove the paper from the water right away. Rinse it again in your second water container to avoid gray “fog” in your white areas. 
Beautiful patterns might still be left on the water after this rst transfer. You can keep transferring them onto more paper. If you want to start a fully new pattern, skim the surface with newsprint until it is clear or discard the Suminagashi and start over.  ​

Put it on your drying surface. 


A little tip at the end

To create areas on your paper that are not marbled, just wet these parts. They will stay free of patterns throughout the process.

Suminagashi depends on the right consistency of ink. Keep trying if it does not oat right away. Thin your ink or add more surfactant. You will be able
to produce wonderful results soon. The fascination of Suminagashi will for sure capture your imagination. Enjoy and let me know about your results! 


Suminagashi: The Japanese Art of Marbling:

A Practical Guide, by Anne Chambers, 1993,

Thames & Hudson, ISBN: 0500276498, ISBN- 13: 978-0500276495 (out of print, look in used books) website: 

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