# a brief theory of combed patterns

recently i had the priviledge of teaching an introduction to marbling patterns at MCBA. many classes that touch on marbled patterns first demonstrate the pattern (or patterns) and then participants duitifully replicate replicate replicate, without much thinking (at least in my experience) about why the pattern is aesthetically pleasing or interesting to the eye.

as a teacher, as much as i would like participants to leave with class sheets of paper they enjoy and plan to use, i also would like them to leave with a mind towards experimenting and expanding the craft as a whole. although many "advances" in the repetoire of combed patterns come with modifications to the rakes used, thinking about the fundamentals of the craft can help expand the options even when only has the standard array of combs at their disposal.

to this end of promoting experimentation, below are the notes i provide to participants in my class. let me know what you think! i hope to include pictures at some point.

Most modern combed marbling patterns today work on three main principles:

- Paired motions
- Perpendicular motions
- Variations in combs

Using these three principles, many delightful and aesthetically pleasing patterns can be made. But that is not to say that marbling ascribes only to these rigid parameters. As with most so-called "rules" in art, when broken –such as when a motion is unpaired or the motion is parallel – they also create pleasing and interesting patterns.

With the above in mind, these notes are designed less to be comprehensive, but more so to help you jog your memory when you are looking for ways in the future to start experimenting with your own combed designs. While there are many published patterns (see References, below), there are still more out there to discover and popularize.

## A Worked Example of the Three Principles

The most basic paired motion is the standard *getgel*. This is made with the following steps:

- Move a 1" comb lengthwise down the tray
- Bisect the lines you just made, using the same comb, and draw the comb back to where you started at (1)
- Now, perpendicular to the direction you just were going, using the same comb, cross the tray again
- Finish by bisecting the lines you just made and returning the comb to where you started in (3)

We can already see our three principles in actions:

- Paired motion: each movement of the comb across the length of the tray is paired with an equivalent, bisecting returning movement.
- Perpendicular motion: after each paired movement, the subsequent pair is perpendicular to the movement of the preceding pair.
- Variation in combs: the comb is the same across all steps.

## Breaking the Rules

### Paired Motions

The most common pattern where one has a step without paired motion is the nonpareil pattern. In this pattern, we start with the getgel, as described above, and finish by using a ¼" comb, going perpendicular. Elaborated out a bit more, that would be:

- Pair of movement with a 1" comb
- Perpendicular pair of movement with a 1" comb
- Ending, moving perpendicular to (2), with a ¼" comb

### Perpendicular Motions

A classic example of non-perpendicular motion is the French Curl. After making your base pattern, such as the aforementioned nonpareil, using a stylus or a widely spaced comb, make large curls in the pattern, almost like drawing a snail shell (and indeed, you may hear this pattern referred to as the snail pattern).

Curves – s-curves, square curves, huge arcs – can bring a whole new look to an existing pattern.

### Variation in Combs

An important alternative to the getgel, called the chevron, uses two combs of different tine widths. Traditionally, one comb will be half the width of the other, for example 1" and ½". The steps are the same as making the getgel, but with a variation in which combs you use:

- Make a pair of bisecting movements with the 1" comb
- Make a perpendicular pair of bisecting movements with the ½" comb

## Some Questions to Help Spark Ideas

- Do I always have to precisely bisect on the return?
- Does perpendicular always mean 90° or could it be at an angle?
- What kind of curves can I use? Arcs, waves, anything else?
- Do the tines on my combs need to be regularly spaces?
- For a pair, does every part need to be straight across on the return movement?
- Does each movement need to go the full length of the tray?
- Do I have to start with a getgel or a chevron?

## References

There world of marbling books is surprisingly large for what is now such a niche craft. If you would like a reference book to have with you to help remember patterns and spark ideas, I recommend the following three books:

*Making Marbled Paper*by Heather J. Fletcher*The Ultimate Marbling Handbook*by Diane Maurer-Mathison*El Marmoleado*by Antonio Celemín- Although in Spanish, it has wonderful diagrams and patterns not found in the other two books.

*last updated: 2024-03-31 20:42:22*