Marbler Jemma Lewis creates show-stopping artisan papers

Fascinated by the endpapers of antiquarian books, Jemma Lewis crafts unique marbled designs from her homely back-garden studio

Jemma Lewis sat outside her studio

A glance inside Jemma Lewis’s  workshop reveals a psychedelic tangle of colour and pattern. After discovering the art of marbling while working for an antiquarian bookbinders, Jemma set up a business crafting artisan papers from home. Now popular among big-name fashion brands and publishers, Jemma’s papers deftly blend heritage methods with contemporary colourways.

Advertisement

What is your background? 

I completed a degree in Textile Art and, when I moved back home to Wiltshire, I took a position with a bindery in Bath. While there, the company sent me to learn traditional paper marbling with a lady called Ann Muir.

The shelves of Jemma's studio piled high with pots of paint and dye

When did you first discover marbling? 

At the bookbinders, it was my job to go through all of the antique books that came in and make a note of what repairs were needed – and often they needed new marbled papers to match the originals. I was drawn to the colours and the diversity of the patterns that I found, but also by their link with history. I loved how some of the papers, tucked inside old bindings, seemed as fresh and vibrant as the day they were made.

What is your process? 

To begin with, I fill the marbling tray with water and Carrageen moss (an Irish seaweed that I buy as a powder).  This makes a thick, gloopy substance, almost like wallpaper paste, that I can float the paints on. I then prepare the paper with alum – a chemical to ensure the paint can stick and won’t rinse off. I dip a brush in watered-down gouache paint and flick the colours across the surface – the pattern can either be left as spots, or swirled using a stylus to create a more intricate pattern. I then lay the alumed paper onto the surface to transfer the pattern.

Jemma uses a stylus to swirl ink floating atop a tray of water

What inspires you? 

A lot of my designs are down to  experimentation. When I have time in the workshop, I like to try new colours and techniques. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to get but, for me, that’s all part of the fun.

What is your workshop like?  

It’s a log cabin at the bottom of the garden, so I certainly enjoy the commute! It’s very much a working space and isn’t an immaculate studio. The walls  are thick with 10 years’ worth of paint splatters and the shelves are full of gouache waiting to be used. The space is at its best in the summer when we can have the doors open and Milo the cat and Charlie the dog can come and lounge in the garden nearby.

Jemma peels back a sheet of paper to reveal the transferred marble design

What has been the proudest moment of your career?

Earlier this year, I met HRH Prince Charles at the Romanian Cultural Institute in London. I created some custom hand-marbled papers for a special binding called the Transylvania Florilegium, published by Addison Publications Ltd. I also work regularly with The Folio Society to create marbled papers for its limited-edition books. And recently, I created designs for a book by Florence Welch [of band Florence and the Machine] and I have worked with Jo Malone to marble lids for its iconic perfume boxes.

I like to try new colours and techniques. Sometimes I don't know what I'm going to get but, for me, that's all part of the fun.
Jemma Lewis

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m marbling 300 ultra-thick sheets for a client to use within their packaging. Every sheet is different and I’m using several coloured base papers.

How do you display your papers at home?

I have lots of marbling at home because it’s so versatile. I have a favourite framed piece above my bed and a set of lined drawers, plus some marbled silk ribbon, which I used on my wedding shoes!

Jemma in her back garden workshop, surrounded by piles of richly marbled papers

Any future plans?

To keep marbling and filling those drying racks with colourful papers. I hope the future will bring more exciting collaborations and projects and, further down the line, I’d love to expand my studio and offer marbling workshops to larger groups.

Advertisement

See more of Jemma’s designs at jemmamarbling.com.