October 2018

Nestled in the heart of Wiltshire chickens and ducks roam freely whilst Solveig Stone and her family run a marbling business.

Using only a special type of seaweed and combs made from objects Solveig has crafted over the years, Compton Marbling has been alive since the 1970s, creating unique marble papers for books, lampshades, boxes and stationery. We caught up with Solveig and her daughter Clementine, to learn more about this flourishing business. 

Compton Marbling was set up by Solveig. Can you tell us the story of how it all began?

S: The marbling grew out of my having seen a wonderful collection of bindings at the private library at Stanford University, California, of whose press my husband was art director 50 years ago. However it was not until we returned to England in 1971 and he became a designer of a small publishing company, Compton Press, in Wiltshire, that I began marbling and occasionally collaborated with books designed by Humphrey. Although he designed its image, he was not directly involved in Compton Marbling.

Unlike traditional techniques of marbling, you use an unusual ingredient to achieve your paper work- seaweed. How does this effect the creative process?

S: Carrageen Moss (a dried seaweed) is the traditional base on which to apply the paints. The seaweed is boiled with water and strained to produce a gelatinous mixture which allows the paints to be swirled and moved to create the patterns. If the paints floated on water only they would move too much to allow for different patterns. Applying the paints to water alone creates too much movement in the paints.

With both parents involved in the business you must have grown up surrounded by art and crafting, Clementine – was it a natural decision for you to join the business? 

C: I grew up surrounded by art and crafts. My grandfather was a renowned wood engraver (a memoir by Humphrey is to be published next year), and my grandmother a fine portrait photographer. The visual arts are definitely in my bones. My maternal grandmother ran a greatly respected jewellery shop in Ireland too.

A quadrangle of 19th century farm buildings house workshops for both the marbling and my father's design studio, and 12 years ago I asked my parents if I might open a shop in part of the quadrangle. So it seemed a natural progression. I decided to take on the marbling giving it a new lease of life by relaunching it this year with a new logo, products and patterns.

Your mother started creating end papers for Compton Press, a letter press printer of short-run books, how have your products developed over the years? 

C: When my mother started marbling in a shed in the garden, her four daughters would play around her feet. When my parents bought the barns and the business grew, I would often come and play in the office whilst my mother worked.

S: Over the years the products have developed from a humble notepad to an extended range of boxes, books and albums. In the 1970s and 80s we took our products to trade fairs and supplied our wares to shops. Interior designers took an interest in our papers and we developed a number of lampshade designs as well as paper to be used on walls and furniture.

Can you talk us through the process of creation?

S: I create new patterns all the time as well as adding new products to our range. Lately we have introduced matchbox covers, place mats and photograph frames. Apart from the paints which are commercially produced the two main natural ingredients are as mentioned before seaweed, and in addition ox gall, a by product used to reduce surface tension and allow the paints to spread.

The Process:

The paints are first of all mixed and thinned with white spirit. A tiny amount of ox gall is added to each paint. Using paint brushes each paint is sprinkled on the surface of the size. A stylus moves the paints gently to produce the desired pattern. A number of combs, homemade by me, are used to produce different patterns. Inspiration for the patterns and colours drop into my mind in all sorts of ways. sometimes I might be looking at lichen on rocks or barks of trees, another time I might be looking wonderful colours on my travels to India.

The business has its roots in Wiltshire; how has the region inspired the work and how is its history interwoven into the designs? 

C: Because the business has always remained in Wiltshire we recently decided to rename all the patterns with words from old Wiltshire dialect.

Do you run workshops? 

C: We hope to begin workshops again in 2019.

Photography © Jake Eastham & Compton Marbling
Compton Marbling
Lower Lawn Barns
Fonthill Gifford