Marbling and Graining: Material Affects in Paint

 In Architectural Conservation

English wooden furniture and interior room architecture, such as chimney surrounds and panelling, can be dated to some degree by the type of wood, and the way the wood was prepared in a sawmill. Sixteenth century English oak, for instance, was quarter-sawn and then cut along the medullary lines of the grain, so the finished wood would show the radiating grain lines and colours to best advantage. When the Age of Exploration opened trading channels with the rest of the world, English furniture makers began using imported mahogany, rosewood, satinwood, and ebony from Jamaica, India, Brazil, and Honduras. With all of these interesting new woods, the colour and grain were used to best advantage by craftsmen. It became common practice to develop unique designs in veneer and inlay work that used the various colours and grains of these expensive imported woods.

Many skilled craftsmen were engaged in using these rare wood colour and grain patterns in furniture making and interior design work. When paints began to be developed, using various earth pigments and minerals as colouring agents, craftsmen began to duplicate the effects of the colours and grain patterns in paint. This allowed the use of local materials that could be made and used onsite, rather than imported from Cuba when the ships were sailing and the weather was favourable.

When wealthy tradesmen and the nobility began travelling extensively to Greece and Rome, the classic symmetry and majesty of marble columns and the styles of early Greek art and architecture brought a desire for simplicity, beauty, and extravagant nature of the materials in interior design. Careful study of marble columns in ancient structures showed patterning and graining in the marble that was continuous from one column to the next, suggesting they had been quarried and carved from one large piece of marble. While many travellers tried to carry much of the ancient Greek marble home, the desire to replicate the classical look of carved marble gave craftsmen their next challenge.

Using paint and special brushes to develop feathered veins of colour in an opaque white background, these marbled effects became popular in ceilings, plaques, and other decorative elements. Developing at the same time was the practice of marbling paper, floating colours on a thickened moss to develop patterns on coloured paper used for fine bookbinding. The earliest marbled paper patterns were designed to replicate colours and patterns of fine quarried marble.

Ravenoak has skilled artisans and craftsmen who can, using period specific materials and tools, replicate many fine painting techniques such as graining and marbling. Please consider contacting us for more information, or to make an appointment.

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