Laura Berretti – A Passion for Marbling

One of my greatest joys about PaperMojo has been connecting with all the amazing people out there who are just as nuts about paper as we are. You may remember a while ago our wonderful lokta supplier shared a bit about his journey and passion for paper, you can read the story here. Since you all seemed to really enjoy the look into his world I thought we would continue with what I’ve affectionately called “The People Behind The Paper”.

With marble paper popping up everywhere lately we are kicking things off with the very talented Laura Berretti, artist behind all of our Florentine Marbles.

Handmade Florentine Marbles

Laura Berretti Working

PM: Your family history with marbling goes back quite a ways. As a second generation marble artist, can you tell us how your family got started in this art? How old were you when you first started marbling? Did your father alone teach you or were their others who mentored you?

LB: My dad (Giorgio Berretti) is an important university teacher. He teaches industrial design and is well known for his work, but nothing about marbling. You can read more about one of his projects here

He tried marbling when he was young with some school friends, their families were in the bookbinding business. He worked with them for some years, but only as a side project when he had time to do it.

When i was only a student (14 years old), I started to help him time to time just to have some money for personal things. This was my first experience in marbling. By the time I finished art school I had done a variety of different jobs. Finally, bored and trying to find a job that could give me satisfaction, I started to think what i could do (meanwhile my dad stopped working in marbled papers, going ahead with his original work; and when his friends needed something already they called me); so in 1998 I decided to try to open my personal company to see what could happen… I picked up all my father’s notes about the marbling process and I started to study them better… making a lot of trials… changing a lot of the materials to see the effects… colors… kind of baths… till I found what I wanted.

Florentine Marble Patterns

PM: I know you have chosen your materials carefully to respect the environment and to create an acid-free marbled paper. What type of water-based pigment do you use? What other elements help make this an environmentally friendly and acid-free product?

LB: I always try not to use toxic things; I didn’t want to work with filters and machines to preserve my health. I wanted to feel free to work without any masks, and not have noisy machines around me to filter the air. Considering the prices of this kind of machine and the place where you have to work… and also the permissions I didn’t want to have these kind of problems. I also didn’t want to use solvents to clean everything.

Applying the Color

So everything started from this point. Dad always used natural things so it wasn’t hard to me go on with those materials. Then I discovered that you can use only these kinds of materials to obtain certain kinds of designs. The oil colors or fatty colors (that need the solvents) don’t let you make a thin comb design; like some of the thinner Peacock designs. Everything started from the choice of colors. The colors are natural pigments usually used to paint cloth. From there I needed to find a good bath. The bath can be made from a lot of things. A lot of kinds of baths are made from a kind of glue mixed with water, or others are obtained from boiled linseed; these kinds of baths are less expensive but the results with water-colors are not good. They don’t let the colors float in the right way and the result is a dusty paper. The only thing that works well is a kind of moss. It’s an Ireland moss called carragheen that when boiled in water leaves a kind of gelatin. This liquid bath allows the colors to remain floating on the surface without mixing. The combination of these two elements allows me to obtain a thin and clean design.

Marbling Materials

I think this is what makes my designs unique. It’s hard to obtain designs like these with other combinations. Another important factor is ox gall, another expensive choice but the gives a great result. Colors are diluted not by the water but by ox gall. The ox gall lets the colors enlarge on the surface of the liquid bath, without falling down. My process does not involve any ingredients that are acid and also the marbled technique is done on acid free paper. Acid-free paper is paper that has a neutral or basic pH (7 or greater), although paper having a pH between 6 and 7 is often also considered acid-free. This is the paper that I use.

My work is totally acid free, both in the procedure and in the paper.

PM: I know you sometimes have difficulty getting the paper you prefer to work on. What are the qualities of this paper that make it particularly good for your art?

LB: Paper to work on is important, the best one is a kind of paper that doesn’t curl or wave while you put it in the bath. It has to be absorbent but not too much or it will break while you try to remove from the bath color. I tried a lot of kind of papers from my customers also the Indian handmade papers. A really great cotton paper, so beautiful to see and to touch, but very difficult in marbling. Finally we used it but in 250 grams because I wasn’t able to use one with less grams (it becomes pulp in the bath); cotton Indian papers don’t have any kind of tie (Adhesive).

Marble Paper Drying

PM: Are you or have you mentored or trained others to marble in your historical Florentine style?

LB: As every artist I don’t like to give all the details about my work, like quantity or how long to boil the moss etc. etc. I conducted a little course for the students of Arts school in Bologna last year. It was so funny see the students with colors all over them, and to see them in their c.s.i. looking suits so they don’t get dirty. I really would like to find others course to was a good experience.

Marbling Course

Teaching Students to Marble

PM: Of all your marbles, what is your favorite pattern?

LB: I like the stone look, but my favorite one as color and pattern is the Red Shell.

Florentine Marble Red Shell

I also find that the PF is a pretty one because as I told you before you will never find a pattern so thin.

PM: For you personally, what is the most exciting place your marbles have been used?

LB: I like everywhere my marbles are used. I like to see how people can use their talent to show my marbles. Like the person who wrote me some years ago asking me about marbled papers to use as wallpaper for her room. For sure the books art that I made for FMR have been a great satisfaction ( not economically ;-)…but great works ) I also like see that Paper Mojo sells my marbled papers… everytime I see that people are buying my paper it makes me happy… thinking how people all around the world could use my marbles.

Creating Combed Pattern

PM: You obviously love what you do; it really shows in your work. Can you tell us what you find are the most fulfilling and rewarding aspects of what you do?

LB: Rediscovering the culture of the ancient decoration of Florentine paper is a keen interest of mine.  We are losing the knowledge and education of the ancient crafts.  Running on to the new, without or with little knowledge of the “old”, is to the detriment of culture.  I want to educate others to the beauty and bring back these ancient techniques.

Many people question why there are still people like me.  People who continue to exercise a profession full of history, but perhaps without a prosperous future.   I can answer that it is my work and the knowledge that it is not created by and at the cost of underpaid or stolen labor of children in the Third World.  It is a reason of hope for a more humane future.

My ability to share my knowledge of this ancient craft through marbling is not only possible but rewarding.  My marbling , although simple and repetitious, still has a place in people’s lives.

Marble Patterns and Colors

PM: Apart from marbling, what other activities do you enjoy doing?

LB: After work my time is divided in meditation and singing. I’m Buddhist and I sing in gospel choir. (i had a lot of concert this Christmas) I adore cats, I have 2 Persian cats. I adore collecting African and Indian things…my home is decorated in the colors of Africa. I also make henna designs on hands. Here some of my work if you want to see them 😉


…and I adore Michael Jackson LOL

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  1. … a special thanks for your wonderful work! 😉

  2. […] Paper Mojo the Blog » Blog Archive » Laura Berretti – A Passion for …Jan 24, 2011 … Laura Berretti Working. PM: Your … LB: My dad (Giorgio Berretti) is an important university teacher. …. …and I adore Michael Jackson LOL … […]

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