Marbled fall leaf prints

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

The first full weekend of fall brought some cooler nights causing our yard to be covered with lots and lots of fallen leaves. While outside the other day the tot and I collected some of our favorites, which she painted with watercolor paints, smushed, and then tore to bits.

Hey, she’s 2. That’s what toddlers do.

But, it did inspire me to get out the paints and do a fun art activity perfect for kids 6 and up – and adults too.

Marbled fall leaf prints.

The finished prints can be used to create beautiful hand-made cards, for wrapping a special fall gift, or just as a nice decoration for the family fridge. Marbling paper has been an art technique since the early 1100’s in Japan and then started gaining more attention in the 1500’s in Turkey. This specialized art form was used as backgrounds for special documents and manuscripts. Eventually making its way to European artisans and bookmakers, marbled paper became widely recognized as a true craft that is respected and admired even today.

Usually accomplished with harsh chemicals and magic potions (no, not really – but yes, toxic), your child can explore the concept of marbling with the help of some ingredients from the kitchen and a bit of inspiration from those fall leaves.

Invite your child to head outdoors and gather some of her favorite fallen leaves in different shapes and colors. Once she’s happy with her collection, she can head indoors and brainstorm color combinations. She can also do a bit of research and take a look at examples of traditional marbled paper.

The warm colors – red, yellow, and orange – are usually associated with fall and are a perfect color set for creating vibrant marbled paper. But, if your child has her heart set on using other colors, encourage her creativity and let her see what her colors look like when they mix.

Start by getting out a 9×12 baking pan or tray and filling it with enough water so the bottom is just barely covered. Not only is this an exciting art activity – it’s encouraging science concepts, too! You see, oil and water don’t mix (they are insoluble), creating an interesting surface tension, which results in the marbling design. Oil has a lower density than water causing it to float happily on the top of the water.

Now invite your child to get out three paper cups and put a big squirt each color of tempera paint she selected in its own cup. She can then add a couple of drops of water to each cup and then mix to create slightly watered-down paints.

Next she can add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to the water in the pan and drip, drop, drip the yellow, red, and orange paint into tray. Offer her a chopstick to gently stir and move the oily paint water around.

Now she can float her paper on top of the water, lift, and then place flat on a sheet of newspaper. Your child can continue dripping and stirring the oily paint to create more marbled paper.

After the marbled paper has dried overnight, your child can create leaf prints on top of the paper by painting over her collection of leaves from outside with watercolor paint and then pressing and lifting from the marbled paper.

The finished marbled fall leaf prints are just beautiful!