Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Marbling with children

A few weeks before Christmas I spent a most exhausting but very enjoyable day marbling with children at a local heritage field day. I belong to the Ray Park Heritage Group, formed to celebrate and preserve the old farming memories, knowledge and photographs of a part of Sydney now very suburban. Each year we hold a themed open day, the latest one being on Farming and Orcharding. We had many agricultural activities as well as old fashioned crafts for children to enjoy and I volunteered to set up a marbling table. I also volunteered my friend Nerida, who knew nothing about marbling in the morning but by the end of the day could answer any question put to her.

I normally marble on carragheen (or carrageenan) but some years ago I did a workshop with Marianne Peter, a Belgian marbler who had us marbling on guar gum. I decided to use the guar gum with the children and found it easy to prepare and it worked reasonably well. I used acrylic paints thinned with water and with a drop of ox gall to make them spread. I alumed 80 sheets of cartridge paper the day before and prepared the gum and the paints on the day. As we were marbling in the Boy Scout Hall there were many restrictions and I had sheets of protective plastic for metres around the work table in case of splashes; just as well because the children loved spattering the paint with the whisks.

Most of the children were aged between 4 and 10 but there were a few 3 year olds and a few mothers who couldn't resist having a go. We started at 9am, finished at 5pm and had a 30 minute break in the middle of the day. There was such a constant queue of children that Nerida and I didn't get outside to see any other activities; in fact we didn't have time to eat.

Because we were so busy helping the children to marble their sheets of paper neither Nerida nor I managed to take any photos of the children's work. I feel rather sad about this because there were some really lovely papers and it's a shame no one took a photo of the colourful hanging racks. I know the children were delighted with their efforts and after hanging them to dry they very proudly took them home. The next day when we were cleaning up (and what a huge clean up it was) children were coming in to ask when could they marble again. Maybe next year, though I rather think I'd like to make books with them next time.
Certainly I wouldn't have been able to get through the day without Nerida and my willing helpers for setting up and cleaning up, Jacqui and Rosemary.

I do have two pieces of marbling I produced at Marianne's workshop, illustrated here. These were done on guar gum, with printer's inks and onto shiny white paper. Marianne is a stunning marbler and her workshop was an eye opener for me, being used to water colour marbling. As I've said before, I'm only a dabbler when it comes to marbling, so it was a great thrill to produce these two pieces.


  1. What beautiful pieces you have done! I love marbling, but have found it difficult with fabric. You were certainly a success with those children...and brave to take on such a task!


  2. Thanks Judy, it was fun but a very tiring day. I've never marbled fabric and these days I'm just trying to concentrate on making books so even paper marbling takes a back seat. I actually have enough of my own papers to keep me in covers or end papers for quite a while.

  3. Your papers look fabulous!
    Marbling with a group of young children seems like it would be a monumental task; congrats on managing it so well.

  4. I used to be a primary teacher and I can't help but admire your courage! You must have been exhausted - well done for giving so many kids so much fun!

    And just as a reward - I've tagged you!


  5. Lovely marbling, looks like fun day!

    Glad to have found your blog, I think I'll have to have a go at your slot book, looks like a very interesting structure (and photogenic too!)

  6. Thanks Rhonda and Celia, your comments make me feel I should do it again. I used to be a preschool teacher in a past life so I do like working with small children.
    Rhonda, thanks for tagging me - I'll do my best.

  7. Hi Sarah, let me know how you go with the slot book. And please put it on your blog, which is where I'm going to visit right now.

  8. Hi Carol
    I want to respond to your comment on Bibliophilia about letterpress in Sydney, but I can't find an email. Can you message me directly meliors/at/clear/net/nz and I'll get back to you.
    Meliors back in NZ (for now)

  9. I have such fond memories of marbling paper and I would have been about the same age as those children when I first experienced it. It's such a enjoyable, experimental process.

    Thank you for your kind comment left on my blog.

    take care,

  10. Meliors, I've emailed you - thanks for your response.

    Gracia, I think what I enjoy most about marbling is the experimental aspect. I'm afraid I work more on luck than good management which means I can't really call myself a marbler, just a dabbler.

  11. Lovely work.

    Coincidentally, I recently posted a blog entry about making marble paintings with kids.

    Even toddlers and preschoolers can do this one:



  12. In your opinion what worked best for you the guar gum or the carageenan? I'm an elemenary school art teacher and I'm looking for a better alternative to marbalizing paper than liquid starch which is really a pain to work with.

  13. Hi Carol, I experimented with Guar gum and was having problems with the paints smudging on the paper. Did you have problem with yours? What was the proportion you mixed the gum with water? I am having a small outdoor workshop for kids in a few days and thought that guar gum may be a better alternative than what I normally use. Thanks for your help


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