When she speaks about the many wonders of marbling, Sana Hussan could as well be describing a most uplifting act of magic she witnessed. “The mesmerising floating effect of paint suspended in water, moving, staying, running, sinking; it’s so relaxing that it instantly lightens you up,” she tells Community.
Marbling, for Hussan, is akin to meditation. “Even after a most hectic day, nothing calms me down like settling down with a tray full of water and dropping paint into it,” she says of the simple yet intense joy of exploring marbling for hours on end, “So much so that marbling is now used as therapy for depression patients.”
The spectacular art of creating multi-hued patterns by sprinkling and brushing colour pigments on a pan of oily water and then transferring the exquisite patterns to paper, marbling is a road less travelled in Qatar.
Pakistani expat Hussan is perhaps one of the two or three active marbling or Ebru artists in Qatar. Ebru is the traditional Turkish art of marbling – the word ebru (cloud, cloudy) or abru (water face) in Turkish refers to the technique of paper marbling. “Marbling is what I started with, and Ebru, the advanced form of it, involves making images and layered patterns such as floral motifs and so on,” Hussan says.
Born and raised in Doha, Hussan recalls the first tell-tale sign of her tryst with art. “As children, when my siblings and I would go to the stationary shop, they would buy fancy sharpeners, pencils and erasers, and I would straightaway pick up colouring books,” she says.
All through her academic years, Hussan participated in various inter-school art competitions and projects and bagged several prizes which boosted her confidence. “All through my life, my parents, siblings, and teachers encouraged me to pursue art, and that helps a lot,” she says, referring to her experiments with everything from sketching to oil and acrylic painting.
After completing her secondary and higher secondary education from Doha, Hussan pursued a degree in Fashion Designing from ITMF, Pakistan. An incident that returns to her time and again is from then, about a decade ago. She reminisces, “Back then, we would be taken to art exhibitions. At one event, I was standing by myself and noticed an old lady staring at my hands. ‘You know, you should do something with art… You will do well,’ she said. It felt a little weird but that line stayed with me. The lady was right.”
After returning to Doha, Hussan continued with her studies while working for a recruitment company. “I had tried my hand at marbling during my student years at ITMF, and was exploring everything I came across – from candle-making to textile-printing. I would even create art and gift them to friends and family,” she says.
Soon Hussan got married and moved to Saudi Arabia, and she somewhat lost touch with her artistic side. After three years there, a job opportunity in Qatar for Hussan’s husband meant that the family moved to Doha.
“It was nearly two years ago that I hit restart,” Hussan says, “When I would meet my old friends and acquaintances here, they would ask me what was I doing these days and I would be kind of blank. I sensed restlessness within me. I knew I had to do return to art.”
While Hussan had tried her hand at ancient art such as Babylonian art and Egyptian art, Islamic Art captured her imagination like no other. “That’s because in Islamic Art, you don’t make faces, and also figures are conveyed as mere reflections. The fact that I had to follow this rule seemed very interesting,” Hussan says.
Her fascination for Islamic Art met its perfect match in marbling. “My son was only three and would want me to spend time with him in art activities. So we used to watch various art videos and try DIY projects. Once, we happened to watch an Ebru art video. My son loved it a lot and asked me to create a piece for him. As I found Ebru very similar to marbling, which I already knew, I instantly took to it,” Hussan says, “Besides, marbling and Ebru was unique in how I knew I would stand out among the artists in various mediums in Qatar.”
Next, Hussan would watch Ebru videos, join local art communities in Doha, connect with Ebru artists in Turkey, and follow their guidance on what materials she must use for Ebru and how she must go about it. “I began trying Ebru paintings in my free time, initially by using alternative products, and eventually by asking a friend to source the traditional Ebru materials from Turkey,” she says.
A self-taught Ebru artist, Hussan admits to feeling surprised as to how everything seems to have fallen in place. “When you decide on a path to something, the way starts showing up. I have participated in international Ebru Patchwork Project, representing Qatar and Pakistan, and I now teach marbling and Ebru at VCU-Q community classes. My next project will have paintings on canvas with marbled objects made out of modelling clay. I am focusing on fusion paintings using different marbling techniques,” she says.
Among the many endearing aspects of marbling or Ebru, Hussan shares a few that she loves. “When you are working at it, it’s nature that’s working; it’s not you. You might be putting a drop of paint into the water but it’s the nature of water that decides where that paint will go. Since the water can spread it or sink it, you feel like it is nature at work and you are only observing.”
Time is of the essence here. “You have to work real quick, and keep an eye out at the paint as it keeps moving to the edges of the tray. Just to prepare the water for the art, it takes five hours. Once I start, I usually work continuously for four or five hours. That’s because it’s so refreshing that I can’t stop myself and also because at one sitting, you can make several paintings or you will lose out on the water, which needs to be discarded after 24 hours.”
Although Ebru looks deceptively easy, it demands terrific hand control. “The movement of your hand must be smooth and swift as if you would draw a figure. But unlike paper, when you do Ebru, you are trying to control the nature of water as the paint flows in different directions upon contact. One of the beauties of Ebru is that you won’t get the exact image you want but a beautiful approximation of it,” Hussan explains.
While she routinely experiments with various Ebru techniques such as the Ebru Akasi technique, where you marble a single paper twice or thrice by using a stencil, eventually, Hussan wants to visit Turkey to learn the more complex processes of Ebru art.
The ultimate challenge that Hussan has set herself up for is to create a work of art that “no other marbling artist has made”. Leafing through her many delightful marbling works that capture the skyline of Doha as colourfully as the one that shows a mystical pattern of peacock feathers, Hussan says, “Marbling artists usually focus on creating patterns. I want to use marbling to create something like the Kaaba in Mecca, such that it rivals the finesse and look of an oil or an acrylic painting.”
Given how far she has come already, Hussan might well be on her way to accomplishing such a daunting challenge.
TRYST WITH ART: u201cAll through my life, my parents, siblings and teachers encouraged me to pursue art, u201c says Sana Hussan. Photo by Anand Holla