Marbling is a fast-growing trend in mixed media, and a new generation of paints makes it easy to decorate almost any surface with beautiful swirled color. Marbling involves floating paint on the surface of a water bath to create multicolored designs, and then placing items into the paint to embellish them. Marabu’s Easy Marble paints have made it simpler than ever to add this fun technique to your art repertoire. This solvent-based paint allows you to add vivid marbled patterns to porous and non-porous surfaces alike, such as porcelain, paper, and canvases, using a simple water bath.
I decided to put Easy Marble to the test on several surfaces. I was curious about the dry time as well. Some years ago, I tried marbling with another product, and that experiment failed because the coloring agent dried in seconds when added to the water. I was excited to see if the Easy Marble had a longer dry time. It does!
Marbling has always intrigued me. I love the idea of including it in my bookbinding and collage applications. Marbling is akin to printmaking in that the artwork is created on one surface (in this case, water) and then transferred to another. I was excited to give this new product a whirl.
NOTE: When working with solvent-based products, it’s important to work in a well-ventilated area and wear disposable gloves. Open a window or set up a fan, since this product has an odor.
- Protected work surface
- Rubber gloves
- Containers for marbling baths: plastic bowls, deli containers, or shallow containers, such as clear plastic frames
- Marabu Easy Marble, various colors
- Drinking straws, toothpicks, or skewers
- Items to be marbled (I used watercolor paper, a 4″ square stretched canvas, and a small porcelain bowl. Any painted, porous or non-porous surface is fair game.)
- Scrap paper
- Tweezers or pliers, to hold 3-D objects while marbling
1. Protect your work surface and wear gloves. I use an old towel or absorbent paper towels. This paint dries fairly quickly on the surface of the water, so it’s important to have all of the materials ready to go. For this test, I used watercolor paper, a 3″ white porcelain dish, and a 4″ square canvas. Working on these 3 items gave me a good range of surfaces to test: porous paper, a textured canvas, and the slick, non-porous surface of the bowl.
TIP: Prepare an area where the marbled projects can be left to dry.
2. Choose a container that will accommodate the item(s) you plan to marble and fill it with water. The container should be 3 times as deep and twice as wide as any 3-D object you are marbling. Deli containers work well. I used a shallow, plastic picture frame for marbling the paper and the small canvas. I like to use clear or translucent containers that make it easier to see the floating color.
CAUTION: Any container you use for this technique can no longer be used for food.
TIP: For items like paper or canvas, fill the container with approximately 2″ of room-temperature water. For larger items, make sure the depth of the water will allow the item to be dipped.
3. Give the Easy Marble jars a good shake, and shake out a few drops of the first color onto the water. The color will float and fi ll the surface area. Immediately shake out a second color. Center the second color over the first color, or create a pattern of drops. The drops will float and spread out within the first color, retaining their boundaries. They won’t mix with the first color. Blow the colors around with a straw, rake a toothpick or skewer through the color to create swirled designs, or just let them be. (FIGURE 1) It’s best to start with 2 colors for the first experiments, as the color dries quickly. I dropped Medium Yellow onto the surface and then added drops of Ruby Red.
NOTE: The Easy Marble jars have built-in droppers, so you can easily shake drops onto the surface of the water.
4. Holding the sides of the watercolor paper, lower the center of the paper onto the surface of the water and then drop the edges. Blow away any excess Easy Marble from the surface of the water, and immediately remove the paper from the bath. The color dries almost instantly. The colors do not run when the paper is removed from the bath, but the paper will be damp from being in contact with the water. Set it aside to dry. Use the same method for the canvas, either partially dipping the canvas or completely submerging it to marble the sides.
TIP: To clean the water bath between dips, drag a paper scrap across the surface of the water to remove the paint. Leftover dried paint will stick to subsequent items. After 3–4 dips, you may see “crumbs” of dried paint on the surface. Dispose of the water by pouring it through a sieve or coffee filter, collecting the paint so it can be disposed of properly.
5. I found the best way to get multiple colors is to build color in stages. After dipping the watercolor paper in yellow and red, allow the paper to dry completely. Refill the container with clean water, add more red and yellow along with Azure Blue and White, and blow on the surface or create swirls with a skewer. (FIGURE 2) Working quickly, place the paper on the water, (FIGURE 3) and remove it. This creates another layer and more interest.
6. I wanted to see how Easy Marble worked on a smooth, non-porous surface, so I chose a small white porcelain bowl. I sprinkled white and black Easy Marble onto the water in a deli container and, using pliers to hold the bowl, dipped the bowl into the water. Once the bowl was below the surface, I quickly blew the floating paint away from the bowl and lifted it through the clear water. (FIGURE 4)
NOTE: If you don’t blow the excess paint out of the way before pulling an item from the water, you’ll pick up more color on the way out. The color on the surface of the water is dry and will cause the marbling pattern to be less crisp and beautiful.
I was happy with the results I achieved. I expected this product to yield outcomes similar to those I got with my earlier marbling experiments, but I was pleasantly surprised. These paints have a long enough open time to get great marbled effects. I got exactly the kind of vivid results I love, with the convenience of a simple water bath. This product is great for surface design on any art, paper, or home decor project.
Diana Trout, artist, author, and educator, revels in extravagant color and whimsical abstracted flowers and landscapes. Constant creative play results in discoveries she loves to share on her blog, in her online classes, and on YouTube. Diana is the author of Journal Spilling from North Light Books, and her artwork and articles have appeared in a variety of national magazines. She has taught and exhibited internationally, nationally, and locally, in person and online. See more of Diana’s work on her website (dianatrout.com) and on Instagram (@dianatrout).
This Road Test article also appears in our Fall 2018 edition of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.