Paper Marbling, Origami Box and Bag featured image

Grade Level

5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12


3-4 class periods, 40 minutes in length


carrageenan (Amazon link), paper, a tray large enough to accommodate paper, jars, or droppers to hold watered-down paint, and acrylic paint, a blender if possible, and a large drying rack. For making the bag and box, glue sticks, scissors (or X-Acto knives if you feel comfortable and have introduced students to how to use the knives safely), a ruler, and a pencil.


Acrylic, Paper

Lesson Objectives

Students will be able to understand surface tension as it relates to creating marbled paper. Students will understand some history of marbling. Students will be able to create patterns by floating colors on top of the water and applying them to paper to create an original print. Students will make an origami box and/or gift bag with the paper

Introductory Activity

A handout or projection on the history of marbled paper and the role of surface tension. Students may be familiar with the concept from science class.

Lesson Process

I start with setting up a station for marbling in class. In advance, I usually make up a couple of containers full by adding about two tablespoons of carrageenan to a blender full of warm water (leaving a couple of inches of space). Blend and pour into a tote, about 3 inches deep, which can vary. How long the baths last can depend wildly on how enthusiastic and heavy-handed the students are. I go through about 1-2 trays a period. My setup includes sheets of newspaper to catch the sheet of newly marbled paper and a drying rack close by. You do not want the kids to walk with the paper as it drips and the solution on the floor is very very slippery. The paints are mixed up ahead of time, about 50% paint and 50% water, shaken well. I have used baby food jars, eye droppers, or small squeeze tubes.

Lightly distribute the paint onto the surface and watch as the paint distributes as a thin layer on top of the bath. At first, it is hard to see. From there, take the back of the brush, a toothpick, a comb, or an otherwise improvised tool and swirl just the surface gently. Hold the paper in “U” and drop it onto the surface. That allows it to roll pushing air out. If students just drop it on they will end up with air pockets.

Push the edges of the paper down and then grab a corner and lift. Listen to all the gasps. From there I settle students to their projects and call two students at a time to create their papers. I like to hand out the paper and have them write their name on it with a pen or fine type sharpie in the corner, small. Then they bring up the paper and marble it. It takes no less than two days for me to get through a class of about 20 students, but I do make extra marbled paper for absent students and students who don’t love their papers. I then have them make gift bags and/or origami boxes with their papers. It’s tight. but I have gotten through both in one period. You know your class and your comfort level leading them through the activity (and I do encourage teachers to run through it by themselves in advance. Instructions for the box and bag can be found in the resource section of My Art Lesson. Click here for the box and here for the bag.


marbling, surface tension


Marbling Paper and Fabric by Carol Taylor and Patty Schleicher

Marbling Paper YouTube video
We suggest buying you carrageenan powder and other marbling supplies at Amazon.

Author’s Website/Blog

Maureen Meyer

Supporting Images