Have you ever wondered how the whirls and swirls of marbleized paper are created? It's not magic, but rather a technique that dates back to the twelfth century.
Tools and Materials
Uncoated (non-glossy) medium-weight paper, or wooden object, such as magazine holders
Clothesline and clothespins for drying
Absorbent ground gesso (for wood objects only)
Painter's tape (for wood objects only)
Shallow baking pans or trays
Liquid acrylic paints
Knitting needle or skewer
Cardboard and toothpicks to make "rake"
1. Prepare the surface: For paper, dissolve 2 tablespoons of alum in 2 cups of warm water. Use a pencil to mark one side of the paper, then brush that side with the alum mixture (the pencil marks indicate the prepared side of the paper, as the solution dries clear). Hang the paper to dry, then iron it flat.
For wooden boxes and bins, such as magazine holders, it's easiest to marbleize only one side, as multiple dippings can create messy corners. Tape around the side you wish to coat with painter's tape. Brush the surface with absorbent ground gesso (or gesso mixed with acrylic paint, if desired). Let dry, about 1 hour. Coat the same side with the alum mixture as described for the paper, and let it dry again.
2. Mix the marbelizeing solution: In a bowl, combine 1/2 cup of methylcellulose with 4 quarts cold water, whisking to incorporate the powder. When the mixture is free of lumps, let it sit about 1 hour, stirring at 15-minute intervals until it is syrupy. Pour the liquid into an empty pan. Lay down wide strips of painted newsprint to lift air bubbles. Thin the paints, until they are runny, with small amounts of water. Dip a brush into your first paint color, and hold it over the tray; tap on the handle with a pencil, letting the paint speckle the mixture. Continue to add paint (up to 5 colors), covering as much of the mixture's surface as you like. Leave the speckles as they are, or move the paint in spirals with a knitting needle or skewer.
To make arches, draw a homemade "rake" (cardboard with toothpicks attached at regular intervals) through the paint
3. Embellish the surface: For paper, hold the paper by two opposite corners, and lower it prepared-side down so it floats on top of the solution. Let go of the corners, and smooth out any air bubbles with your fingertips. Let the paper float for a few seconds, then gently lift it from the solution.
For wood objects, such as our magazine holders, lower the edge of the object onto the surface of the solution, and coat it in one smooth rocking motion.
4. Rinse and dry: Immediately after removing the paper or wooden object, place it in a pan, and pour water over it. Then hang paper to dry; place wooden objects on paper towels to dry, marbleized side up. Do not touch the paper or object until it is dry (about 2 hours, depending on humidity levels).
This marbleizing technique is adapted from "Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts." Methlycellulose and alum are available from Talas. Absorbent ground gesso in White, by Golden, can be found in art stores or MisterArt.com. Rives assorted lightweight paper is from New York Central Art Supply. Martha used a KNUFF magazine file from ikea.com.