Color – Marbleized Paper (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , February 2, 2009 9:20 pm



This has actually (unintentionally) been a colorful week for us.

I haven’t mentioned Odyssey of the Mind (OM) here yet, but my friend and I just discovered it (actually she discovered it) and we dived right in last fall as coaches for our children’s Montessori class (1st – 4th grade). It’s a bit complicated to explain OM in this post, but suffice it to say that the children have to come up with an engineering or creative project entirely on their own.  “Outside Assistance” is heavily penalized.

My 8 year-old daughter apparently has the role of a tree in her completely student-created play.  She decided she wanted to dye some net green to be her leaves, so she chopped up an old artichoke that we happened to have in the kitchen and boiled the net in it to dye it green.  It didn’t work so well. She then tried green food coloring. Not too effective either (I think it would have worked better on a natural fiber). That was all entirely her idea.

Personally I probably would have headed to Walmart for some green dye, or better yet, green net!  But of course I couldn’t say that to her – “outside influence.”  So, I look forward to seeing what possible solution she comes up with next.

I was so proud of my daughter’s initiative and creative thinking!  These Unplugged Projects are more than just a diversion.  I believe that they encourage original thought and teach that it is OK to not get it right at first.  Just experiment to see what works, and if it doesn’t, then try and figure out how to make it work.

That was a bit of a tangent, but her experiments with dye got me thinking about food coloring and how we could incorporate that into the theme color. I began Googling food coloring and oil because I knew that the two don’t mix and I thought there might be something fun out there. I was quite excited to find this: Marvelous Marbling.

I have wanted to try marbelizing for a long time now. I have fond memories of loving it the time we did it in elementary school. Since the memory has stayed with me that long, it must have made a big impression!

Traditional marbleizing involves oil paint and turpentine. Frankly, I have never had the energy to tackle that. Turpentine – ick. This webpage tells how to marbleize using just food coloring and cooking oil. I had to try it!   So we did.  I made a few alterations – here is my version.


For this you’ll need a shallow pan that is large enough to fit the paper you’ll be using (we used baking pans), food coloring, cooking oil, white paper (we used card stock – NOTE:  thick card stock produces as a nice result, thinner paper tends to get a bit greasy), water and an eye dropper.  The eye dropper is optional, but we found it worked better than just pouring.


Put just enough water in the pan to cover the bottom (**VERY IMPORTANT!**).  As we discovered, if the water is too deep, the color will sink if you work too slowly.


Put about 1/2 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon food coloring into a glass (we halved the proportions of the original since we only had tiny bottles of coloring and I didn’t want to use it all up).




The two ingredients will not be mixed. [NERDY SCIENCE NOTE:  Oil and water don’t mix due to dissimilar molecular bonds – “like dissolves like” and water molecules and oil molecules are not alike.  Read more here about why oil and water don’t mix:  Let’s Talk Science, and here is a good, simple tutorial about solubility and water: Water Tutorial]

At this point, the mixture will look something like this:


Beat it hard with a fork until well blended.  It is like mixing an oil and vinegar salad dressing and will take a few minutes.  We experimented with mixing it in a jar and shaking it up.  That worked even better, just make sure the top is on tightly (we had a bit of a food coloring disaster the first time my daughter tried it).




When done, it will look more like this:


Using the dropper (or gently pouring if you don’t have a dropper), place drops of colors on top of the water.  The drops will stay in a blob, or perhaps explode a bit.  You can place one color inside another.  Experiment.




When you have dots of color all over the surface of your water, use a toothpick, or a fork, or a feather (whatever you want to try) to make patterns in the colors.  They’ll make blobs and swirls and pretty patterns.



When you are happy with the design, gently place your paper on top of the water.  Leave it for a little bit.  We waited until the oil started to show through the back of the paper (about 30 seconds?) and then peeled it gently off.



There will be lots of oohs and aahs as the pattern is revealed!



That last one reminded me of a medical slide. LOL!

We even tried hot water vs. cold water.  Knowing that molecules move faster in hot water, we wanted to see if anything different happened to our oil/color mix in really hot water.  We didn’t see anything too dramatic, but my daughter did note that the blobs converged a bit more quickly.  (For more on hot vs. cold liquids, please read my post:  Molecules in Motion).

We also experimented with dropping a blob of food coloring directly onto the wet cardstock.  We could work it a little with a toothpick for a bold effect:



Let the paper dry then use it for cards, wrapping paper, framed art, whatever you want.  Ours will become thank you notes.


According to my 8 year-old daughter, this is her “new favorite project!”


For more color project ideas, please check out all the links here.


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Hope to see you then! (If you want to join us, please read about how to here.)




30 Responses to “Color – Marbleized Paper (Weekly Unplugged Project)”

  1. […] Color – Marbelized Paper (Weekly Unplugged Project) […]

  2. Alicia says:

    These are gorgeous! We’ll have to try doing some next time we have a lazy afternoon. We did something similar a while back where we shaved colored chalk and floated it on top of water (you have to move quickly) and then dropped paper on top. The effect there was really pretty too, but much lighter.

    Ooh, we floated it! We could do it again and that could tie in nicely with next week. :)

    Thanks for another fun theme!

    Alicias last blog post..Unplugged Project: Making 3D Drawings!

  3. great job we’ve never done this we might have to try it! i always do shaving cream marble but this looks like a really neat way!

    teaching tinytotss last blog post..WaterColor Heart cards

  4. Clemencia says:

    How beautiful, I will defenetly have to try this one with my daughter, thanks so much

  5. Sherry says:

    Thanks for the inspiration! We did this today. :)

  6. Beautiful, educational, and useful all at once! I like it!

    Mozi Esme’s Mommys last blog post..OLZ A Candle

  7. Tab says:

    I grew up doing OM, now my kids are part of Destination Imagination “DI” Which is quite similar, I believe they were together at one time, then seperated. Lots of fun. I just love seeing what they come up with.

    Love paper marbeling. I’ve never tried it this way. I have used shaving cream, and I’ve also used liquid starch, which is my personal preference. I’ll have to give this one a try! Thanks

  8. […] Color – Marbleized Paper (Weekly Unplugged Project) […]

  9. […] 17, 2009 by Dad I found this project on a mostly excellent blog called ‘unplug your […]

  10. Kez says:

    Thanks! We did this at our homeschool meeting this week. Heaps of fun for the kids – and adults!

  11. Christie says:

    Thanks for an easy recipe!! I did this in a college textiles class with permanent dyes & alum. Marbling is so fun!

    Christies last blog post..Learning Notes:February 2

  12. Kristin says:

    This is so cool I just don’t hardly know what to do. :) LOVE IT! We don’t keep food coloring around here, after a carpet-meets-food-color incident (in a rental!), but we have other things under lock and key (namely watercolor & acrylic paints) that might work!

  13. DeeLight says:

    What a great blog you have!! Thanks for sharing a fun activity

  14. […] are in for a busy week this week too.  As I mentioned once before, my friend Wishy and I are coaches for three school Odyssey of the Mind teams and the regional […]

  15. Mary says:

    I just did this today with my girls ages 7 & 4. We made notecards & envelopes. My kids are looking forward to “sharing” their creations via the USPS.

    We had so much fun that they want to make Christmas gifts, stationery, using this for their Uncle this year.

  16. Mom Unplugged says:

    I am so glad that your girls enjoyed this project, many thanks for letting me know!

  17. Urooj says:

    Simply astounding. I did marbling a year ago using karosene oil and enamel paints but your technique is far more handy. I am going to use it for my atomic designs project! Thanks a ton!

  18. […] Try some marbleized paper with oil and food coloring or liquid watercolors — a project I know Maia would […]

  19. […] thanks to Unplug Your Kids for this fun idea. Subscribe by EmailBabble’s Top 50 Mom BlogsTinkerLab is nominated […]

  20. […] the truth, disabilities Vayetze- tefillat haderech,  Climbing folk toy for Yaakov’s dream, Marbleized paper for well water Vayishlach- Vvayeshev- colors of the rainbow, Prisms, From sheep to clothing Miketz- […]

  21. […] a side note, our art project today was ridiculously easy and too much fun. Here is the link: We created marbalized paper with cardstock, oil, water, and food coloring. It was addicting and […]

  22. […] found this project online. It was super easy, super messy, but super […]

  23. JC says:

    What a great idea!

  24. TM Pedro says:

    You mention Odyssey of the Mind, so I thought I would mention First Lego League also. I don’t know a lot about either of them (the company I work for works with them both) but what I do know is they both seem like great things for kids.

  25. […] finally did the marbling activity from the list, using instructions from Unplug Your Kids. We used liquid watercolors rather than food coloring and suspended the colors in oil first with […]

  26. Susan says:

    Can this be done with fabric? I hope so, I think it would make a beautiful scarf!

  27. […] idea for this project came from the blog, Unplug your kids.  Definitely a blog I want to read more […]

  28. Erin says:

    I’ve tried opening this page in Chrome, Firefox & IE, but I can’t get the pictures to load. And I really want to see the pictures! :)

  29. […] Try some marbleized paper with oil and food coloring or liquid watercolors — a project I know Maia would absolutely […]

  30. […] change it up a little by letting them make this marbleized paper that I found on Unplug Your Kids.  Now I can’t lie…this was messy, so make sure your kids are wearing something to […]

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy