Updated in 2022! Amongst the hustle and bustle of Istanbul's Sultanahmet, there is an oasis of art. Ebru painting is incredible!
Istanbul's Sultanhamet neighbourhood is no stranger to old buildings. It's home to the Hagia Sophia, which dates back to 537 AD, and Topkapi Palace, built in 1459. By comparison, Caferağa Medresesi is the new kid on the block. Built in 1559, it's a mere 456 years young!
But in its relatively short life, it's had many incarnations. The word medresseh refers to an educational institution and, since 1989, Caferağa Medresesi has been a centre of learning for traditional Turkish handicrafts, such as ceramics, mosaics, calligraphy - and ebru painting, which we were fortunate enough to try. It was incredible, so much so that we now think that everyone should try ebru painting in Istanbul, at least once!
Ebru painting is also known as paper marbling. It involves floating colour and creating designs on an aqueous solution and transferring that design to an absorbent material, such as paper or fabric. The resulting image has a decorative marbled design which has been used for centuries as a background for calligraphy, book binding, and stationary. And it's also a great method for creating fun art!
The first steps of ebru painting is easy enough. You dip a broad, fanned brush in the specialty paint and tap it against your wrist, so that the droplets spread out at random over the dish of water. This first layer will become the marbled background to your painting. There's really no way to screw it up! And the instructor is on hand to keep an eye on things in case more paint is needed.
Tulips are the preferred design for beginners as they are fairly straight forward to create. But when it comes to ebru designs, you're only limited by your imagination. The designs can be incredibly complex and colourful and Caferağa Medresesi offers more in-depth classes for ambitious students.
After adding the first layer of paint for the background colour, you have to make the leaves of the tulips. Turns out there's a lot more to it than meets the eye! You dip your paint applicator (more of a pointed tool than a paint brush) in two shades of green and then dip it in the water so the color spreads out in a circle. You repeat the process several times so that the circle (ie your future leaves) will have a depth of tone.
Using the same instrument, you drag the tip of the tool through the circles to shape the paint into the shape of leaves. For this part of the process, the instructor wasn't afraid to get a bit vocal and, in my case, actually had to step in to fix my leaves! Ryan, of course, got his right the first time round!
You repeat a similar process to make the flower of the tulip. You can mix and match any blend of colours you like and you repeat the process several times to get a multi-toned, multi-dimensional blossom. You use the tip of your tool to flare the top of the circle to create the tulip's pointed petals - and if you're lucky, they'll be even!
Ta-da! Check out our gorgeous tulips!!! When your painting is complete on the water, you simply place a piece of paper over the design, smooth it out and wait a few seconds for the colour to transfer. With the instructor's help, you slowly lift the sheet up and your gorgeous design has been perfectly transferred to the paper. Instant art!
The final step is to carry your work of art over to the drying screens. Sadly, for reasons unknown, we never received ours back - our tour guide was supposed to come back and pick up our dried paintings and return them to us but it never happened. We're sad that we didn't get to bring our art home - it would have been the perfect souvenir - but we still had a fantastic time creating our masterpieces and we would absolutely do it again.
Caferağa Medresesi is literallly just steps away from Hagia Sofia and the Topkapi Palace and, if you weren't looking for it, you'd likely never discover it. It's located down a narrow alley (which has a few uneven stones - walk with care). Even if you're not interested in ebru painting, the central courtyard makes for a fantastic place for a light lunch or a cup of tea.
Sultanhamet is home to just about every 'must-do' on an Istanbul bucket list -and has the crowds to prove it. But Caferağa Medresesi proved to the be perfect calm in the travel storm for us, offering up some much needed quiet time and a true glimpse inside Turkish culture. Creating our ebru paintings was such a fun and interesting experience and I would put it at the top of my list of things to do again for a return trip to Istanbul.
Have you ever gotten in touch with your artistic side during your travels?
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