Thursday, April 1, 2010

How To Marble Paper -A Tutorial by Dad

Paper marbling is one of the fun, messy art things we did
with Dad when we were younger. When we were in Singapore
some weeks ago, Dad taught this to the girls. It was a good
refresher for me, too, as it'd been years since we last did this.

What we used:
  • Tapioca starch aka tapioca flour
  • Water Shallow tray (we used a baking tray wrapped in foil)
  • Little cups (we used disposable plastic muffin trays lined with paper cupcake liners) Small paintbrushes
  • Thin stick (we used bamboo skewers)
  • Oil paints
  • Solvent for oil paints (for washing and diluting)
  • Paper that is smaller than the tray (we used A4 /letter size sheets)
  • A lot of old newspapers

Note: You can buy special marbling paints in art/craft stores that can be used on a water substrate. Dad explained that tapioca starch gave a more gel-like substrate for the paint that allowed for more stable and more interesting patterns.

Step 1
Boil some water in a pot. The amount of water should be enough to fill your shallow tray to a depth of 1-1.5" (this is approximate).

Step 2
Stir about 2 tbsp of tapioca starch in a small amount of room temperature water (about half a cup). When the water has boiled, remove from heat and stir in the tapioca-starch+water mixture. This is very subjective but

(i) the mixture will thicken and cloud as it cools
(ii) the final consistency should be like, I dunno, pourable glue.
If it is too thin, dissolve more tapioca starch in a more room-temperature water and mix in. If too thick, add more water.
Step 3
Cool completely.

Step 4
Prepare as many colors as needed.
Set up little cups for the oil paint. Ours was very old oil paint (we used the same tubes when I did marbling as a child!) so we added a little solvent to give it the consistency of tempera paint. The more dilute the paint, the more the pattern will spread.

Step 5
Pour the cooled tapioca starch (hereafter called "the substrate") into the tray.
Step 6
Flick spots of paint onto the surface of the substrate. You can tap the paintbrush on a hard surface, like the edge of the tray or a finger held out (like we did). Experiment to get a nice spread of dots. Repeat to add more colors.

There's Dad! In his Twins shirt!
(And Mum, not wearing her Twins shirt).

Step 7
Using just the tip of the sharp stick, swirl the paint around on the surface of the substrate to get patterns. This is the 'marbling' part.
(And there's Jenna, with masking tape stuck to her hair - not sure why.)

Step 8
Lower a sheet of paper over the marbled pattern, beginning with one edge and letting the rest of the paper follow until the whole sheet is resting on the surface of the substrate. This prevents air bubbles being trapped under under the paper (which will produce big blank spots in the pattern).
Step 9
Use the tip of the sharp stick to raise one corner of the paper so you can lift the whole sheet off.
Allow to drip dry over the tray for a few seconds, then whisk away to a sink. Wash off the starch under a running tap - the paint will remain on the paper. Dry on a stack of newspapers. The sheet of paper will have removed almost all traces of paint from the substrate surface, so you can start the whole process of applying paint and marbling and printing-on-paper from Step 6 as many times as you like.

When you get tired, throw away the substrate and oil paint mixtures and wash the brushes in solvent and dry them for another day.

Playing around with different colors of paper, different starch concentrations, different kinds of oil paint and different ways (and amounts) of stick- swirling can give quite different results. These patterns are the result of a starch substrate that day that was too thin and paint that was too dilute, for instance:

Deja vu - except there's a granddaughter this time!

Thanks, Dad, for letting us hang out with you!


  1. I was just on a website looking for art projects Monday for my students and saw this listed on there. Thank you for sharing and using pictures. Their directions didnt have pictures and I am a visual learner. I wish I could include it in.

  2. That looks awesome. Thanks for sharing. Love & blessings from NC!

  3. Thanks for sharing! I loved seeing pictures of your girls! I've been reading your blog for months now and each post I'm amazed at your talent! I can't wait for more of your farm animals!

  4. This is a great post. We definitely have to try this. What a special moment for your girls to share.

  5. What a great dad you have, LiEr! And thank you for such a detailed tutorial - I am finally beginning to understand the marbling process.

  6. Paper marbling is such a fun activity! I did it as a child in a much more unscientific way - small jars of model paint and a margarine container of water. No substrate or rinsing but lots of fun as I remember.

  7. Oh those pictures make my heart smile.... how loving to have several generations share a moment of creativity and crafting.... learning from one another, and creating a beautiful memory.... Thanks for sharing this story.

  8. how beautiful! Thanks for the detailed directions. Your parents look so nice (and it's a funny mom thing to me to see tape in your daughter's hair - hee hee).

  9. I've never heard of using tapioca flour- that is so, so creative! And the results are gorgeous. Thanks so much for sharing this, I'll be linking.

  10. so gld you documented this - delightful & encouraging for us adults to try

  11. thank you so much for that! i've been wanting to know how to marble on paper for YEARS, and it was great to find such detailed, visual instructions. it's terrific to know it can be so successful with younger children too.

  12. Great tutorial Dad, Thanks for taking the time to write it - I'm sure many will benefit from your shared knowledge! FYI, I used it as a reference on a recent paper marbling tutorial I did myself a week or two ago, figured it might be a a good resource for some of your readers...

    Keep up the good work and again, many thanks!
    ~ Paul


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