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Awash with Color

Martha Stewart Living, February 2005

Marbleize familiar objects, and discover how the humble can be transformed into the extraordinary.

Don't let the intricacy and kaleidoscopic beauty of a marbleized design fool you. Those ripples of color may look hand-painted or machine-stamped, but they're actually created by liquid. Just take a closer look. You'll detect the telltale signs of motion: tiny waves, graceful swirls, and dappling reminiscent of raindrops falling on a pond. In fact, all marbleized patterns begin as paint floating on water. A gentle current is the true artist here.

Marbleizing dates to the twelfth century, when it was practiced in Japan and possibly China. Called suminagashi (which means "ink floating") in Japanese, the technique involved using absorbent papers to pick up ink from a water bath. Later, in Europe, the process of marbleizing was veiled in secrecy by close-lipped guild members practicing the art and selling their wares. In the mid-nineteenth century, however, their trade secrets were published, and marbleizing emerged as a popular pastime.

You can follow in this tradition and make your own rich designs. Marbleize paper to use as stationery and for crafts, and to add distinctive swirls of color to simple wooden objects, such as little boxes or bins. To do so, first coat what you select with a liquid mordant, which gives the paint something to hold on to. After it dries, fill a tray with water and a thickening agent; then speckle the surface of that liquid with paint.

By slowly moving the paint around, you manipulate the pattern. Finally, slip the object onto the surface of the water, then lift it up to capture the design. In doing so, you'll be witness to an age-old secret: Elaborate as it appears, marbleizing is easy. Marbleize familiar objects, and discover how the humble can be transformed into the extraordinary.

Project Ideas
Pencil Set: Take poetic license with a box of plain pencils, and dress them up in shades of pink, orange, and red.

Begin by marbleizing paper, then cut it into strips (about 1 by 6 3/4 inches). Brush a strip of paper with craft glue; affix one long edge of paper to the pencil, then roll against a hard surface to wrap the pencil and remove air bubbles. Sharpen the pencils once the glue has dried.

Picture Mats: Create handcrafted mats to enhance botanical prints or other pictures. We marbleized white papers in subtle greens, using stone and swirl patterns.

Coat a store-bought mat with adhesive spray, and affix it to the back of marbleized paper. With marbleized paper facing down, use a utility knife to cut around the inside and outside edges of the mat, and remove the paper "window."

Embellished-Edge Notepads: Dipped (on the three unbound sides) in a bath of color, Venetian-style notepads make wonderful gifts.

Begin by brushing the alum mixture on the edges, keeping the pages tightly closed as you work; let dry. Marbleize the edges, then rinse, and wrap the pad loosely in paper towels. Weight each notepad with a heavy book while it dries.

Cards and Gift Wrap: The dreamy curves of marbleizing lend themselves to a number of decorative paper crafts. Marbleized paper makes excellent gift wrap and cards.

Create a heart cutout with a Valentine wish. A gift tag, fitted with a grommet and twine, looks perfect adorning a package wrapped in paper with a swirl pattern.

Heart-Shaped Boxes: Marbleize the lids of inexpensive wooden boxes painted in pretty hues. Make one box, or create a set -- one with a rake pattern, another with a stone design, and still another with a swirled motif -- as we did. Fill with treats for someone special.

Desk Catchall: Upgrade your work space with custom desk organizers. We painted a wooden caddy, marbleized it with a swirl pattern, then touched up the sides with more paint. Fill with handmade marbleized stationery.

Magazine Holders: When you use only tiny amounts of paint, the color moves in free-form streaks on top of the solution. The result is a "veined marble" appearance. Use this method on a group of plain wooden magazine holders; we painted them pale green first and marbleized the fronts using the same pale green with reds and browns.

Marbelized Paper How-To

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