Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Painting Printmaking

Paper Marbling with Adults

Sara Ottomano
In our Art Studio space, we strive to be a place for people of all ages to participate in creative art-making.

In our most recent evening adult workshop, we explored paper marbling. The workshops are designed with experimentation and introductory levels in mind, allowing people to create their own artwork surrounding a theme. This winter, participants explored three different marbling techniques using materials found around the home, combined with art materials readily accessible in art supply stores.

A pile of brightly marbled papers.

When researching marbling techniques for the class, we discovered that many techniques involved purchasing harsh chemicals or hard-to-find ingredients. Since the workshop was focused more around experimentation and being able to re-create the techniques at home, we decided to avoid those and focus our research on finding methods that involved more friendly materials such as soap and water. With that in mind, we explored three techniques that involve suspending pigments in aqueous solutions then capturing those patterns onto paper. We used a variety of papers, mainly a drawing paper, Masa paper, watercolor paper, and thick rice paper. Each allowed for a different potential for re-use, a thicker paper could become a card while the thinner Masa paper could become a book cover.

Shaving Cream and Liquid Watercolor

One technique involved shaving cream and liquid watercolor, a process Kelly Niland, an Art Studio intern this past summer, had explored. While she decided to use acrylic paint, we opted for liquid watercolor as clean-up was much easier. Participants dropped colors onto thin layers of shaving cream, used wooden tools such as toothpicks to direct the color, placed a paper on top of the design, and then peeled it off. 

A woman pulls paper off of a tray of colored shaving cream to reveal a marbled paper.
At first the paper looked like a mountain of shaving cream but after letting it sit for between 1 and 5 minutes, participants squeegeed away the shaving cream to reveal the beautiful, concentrated patterns left on the paper.
A squeegee is pulled across a paper to reveal a brightly-colored, marbled paper.
Some participants enjoyed re-using the shaving cream so that the papers were completely covered in colors and designs. Others enjoyed laying out fresh shaving cream each time, leaving a crisp, white background.
A collection of vibrant, marbled papers.

Marbling with Bubbles

Another technique we used was bubble printing. This process was the most replicable at home, using only water, dish soap, and food coloring. Participants put a mixture of soap and water (ratio of 1 part soap to approximately 2 parts water) into a small cup. They added colors to the mixture, many making separate cups for different colors. Participants then blew through straws into the soap and water mixture, (taking care not to drink the mixture!) creating bubbles that foamed to the surface. To capture the bubble texture onto paper, they removed their straws and placed the papers right on top of the bubbles, popping them onto the paper. The process was repeated over and over until pages were covered with the beautiful patterns.

Participant holds up their green, bubble-printed paper.
We discovered throughout the process that you can drop colors directly onto the bubbles to create subtle color mixtures rather than mixing them in at the start.
A paper with blue and green bubble prints on it.


Our third method involved water, soap, and ink in a technique called Suminagashi. This is a Japanese technique of marbling where ink is suspended on the surface of water and rings of color are created by repeatedly tapping the surface of the water with a paintbrush dipped in soapy water or ink. We purchased our Suminagashi ink kit through the art supply store Dick Blick, and black sumi-e ink works as well which is more readily available at art stores.

Two adults carefully dipping brushes with ink onto the surface of water.
The soapy water brush creates rings of clear water while the ink creates the pigment that will later be captured onto the paper. We discovered that this method is very easily influenced by movement, whether that be your breath on the surface of the water or accidental table bumps, the concentric rings can become gorgeous swirls. When participants felt they were ready to capture their patterns onto paper, they placed the paper on top of the water, pulling it up after they could see the color start to seep through.
Five papers that have been marbled with the suminagashi technique, with concentric circles and swirls of color.
After creating the papers and letting them dry, participants then covered a small notebook with a paper they enjoyed making.
Two participants smiling while one holds up their book covered in marbled paper.
We hope our experiments in paper marbling inspire you to try it yourself or with friends!


Sara smiling in front of Art Studio display.

Sara Ottomano

Art Educator from 2016-2023 at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Sara (she/her) is enthusiastic about helping others approach art through exploration and experimentation.

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