Tag Archives: overmarbling

Interesting Carrageenan Disaster

I’ve been marbling on a regular basis for seven or eight years now and I’ve never had problems with my carrageenan until last summer. Problems with paint, with paper, with alum, but I didn’t even think about the carrageenan; it was always reliable. Last summer I had minor problems with it starting to break down after only a day or two, but I blamed it on the heat and moved on.  Last week, I finally had time for my first marbling session in months and I was already to go when I hit a real stopper.

It went like this.  The night before, I set up my marbling space, hung my drying lines, chose my paints, mixed the alum and mixed the carrageenan, just as I always do.  Two and a half Tbsp. to a gallon of water, two gallons in all.  I use distilled water because I have an incredible amount of stuff – iron, calcium, sulfur, and more – in my well water.  As usual, I used the same blender to mix it and poured it into my marbling tray to sit overnight.

The next morning, I alummed some paper, mixed my paints and was ready to go. As soon as I skimmed the carrageenan, I could tell something was different. It was much thicker than it should have been and was very uneven. Using a stylus and my rake, I swirled them through the tray to try to even up the liquid.  I decided to throw some paint to see what would happen and this is what I got:

I rather like the wildness in the first two pieces, but it’s not exactly marbling!  As you might imagine, I was getting upset as skimming and stirring didn’t seem to help. Slowly I realized that there were big lumps of carrageenan throughout the tray and that was the problem. I thought about putting the carrageenan through the blender again or just tossing this batch and starting fresh the next day.  I tried breaking the lumps with the rakes and that helped and I found that dragging the comb from the top of the tray to the bottom caught the lumps in the tines, so I started straining out the lumps and bit by bit the carrageenan became smoother and smoother.

As I got rid of the lumps, marbling improved, but it was still very iffy.  I was able to pull some pretty good pieces, but I was still straining lumps out after every skim.  That created a problem of its own.  It was thinning out the remaining carrageenan and, instead of crisp marbling edges, I was getting very soft fuzzy borders.  I did finish up that day, but that night I took out an old packet of carrageenan from a different source and mixed a new batch for the next morning.

I still don’t really know why this disaster occurred.  It could have been that I lost count and added an extra Tsbp. It could have been mixed too little or too much. It could have been due to cold temperatures that night. It could have been some contamination in the carrageenan powder.  I just don’t know, but it was very frustrating!

Next morning I had brand new carrageenan and a brand new tray and marbling went well. In fact things were going so well that I kept on for another three days and I had lots of fun playing with overmarbling, ripples and got back in touch with marbling just for fun. Lots of pictures of my play.

In total I had almost 100 pieces – good, bad and indifferent – by the end of the session.

Now, I want to do it again!

But, before that, I have to have a bunch of plumbing replaced right over my work area.

NOTE:  Clear acrylic frames come in many sizes and make great, inexpensive marbling trays. Just remember to test how well they hold water before using.  If they leak, plumber’s Goop or other sealant will seal the edges.


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Addendum to Overmarbling

I was doing some more overmarbling yesterday.  I have become addicted to it! I thought it would be interesting to have a complete record of the layers, so I took pictures of the original sheet, the overmarbled sheet and a smaller plain sheet that was marbled in the same tray as the overmarbling.

Here are the results.

Be sure to click on the photos so you can see the details of the overmarbling.

Fun, isn’t it? 

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Playing with Overmarbling

A few weeks ago, I had a marbling session that wasn’t going very well, not really badly, but I just wasn’t thrilled with anything. So, I decided just to have some fun by pulling out some old pieces and seeing if I could make anything out of them. Some were decent, but boring, others  had flaws and a few were disasters that I’m not sure why I even kept! One of my favorite things about marbling is that I never know exactly what a piece will look like when I lift it from the tray.  Will it have a bubble? Will it have a hesitation line? Will it be perfect? Will the colors match what I wanted?

When I overmarble, putting one layer of marbling on top of another, all bets are off.  I can never tell exactly how the two patterns or the two sets of colors will react with each other.  Rarely, I have something amazing, sometimes it’s dreadful, but it’s always interesting.

Here are some before and afters for some of the overmarbling I did.

I want to try this technique on a bunch of other pieces.  One technical note, I forgot that some of my early pieces had been done with watercolors rather than acrylics.  This means that some of the original paint  smudged or washed off when I tried to alum the piece.  I usually use a sponge to alum, but I might have been able to reduce the problem by using a spray bottle.  I now test a corner first to make sure the paint won’t bleed or smear.

In other news, I was finally able to start work on my garden.  I usually have it turned over by mid-April.  It’s May and I’m just starting.  It’s going to be small this year as I still have pickles from last year!  Lots of other outdoor work to be done and not much time.

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Exploring Overmarbling, when and if …

Busy, busy, busy.  I’ve been home for almost a month and still haven’t been able to do any marbling.  Very frustrating as there were so many techniques that we had a taste of in my marbling class and I really want to spend some time with them.  Now, it looks like I’ll have to wait until the new year.

As soon as I arrived home, I had four special order books to finish.  All of them were larger (9″x12″ and 8.5″x11″) than I usually make.  Although the larger size is more impressive, I think I’ll stick to my smaller, pocket-sized fare.  I just enjoy them more.  One of the books was a sewn perfect/adhesive binding.  I hate making those, but there was no choice in this case as the pages were photographs.  I did this for a local photographer and he was pleased.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take any pictures of  the book!  He seems to think other photographers would be interested, but I’m not sure I want to do more.  I’d rather just do a clam-shell box!


Overmarbling is the technique of taking a dried piece of marbled paper and after applying alum, marbling it for a second time.  When I first learned to marble, I had done some with poor results and felt it was used mainly to try to save a piece that wasn’t very good anyway. Here’s a poor example of overmarbling:   as you can see, it’s just a simple get-gel over very large “eggs” or boulders.

This time I learned that, with careful choices of colors and patterns, you can get really spectacular results.  The second marbling can add depth, movement and definition to a piece.

Here are three pieces (above) that worked well.  Click on the thumbnail to enlarge and see if you can trace which colors and patterns are on the top layer and which are on the bottom.

Below are some combinations that didn’t work so well!

Although, even with these, there are portions that could be used in collage work or in my boxes or notepads.  It’s mainly the large sheet that just doesn’t work.

This is by far my favorite piece of overmarbling.  The colors are just right and the patterns compliment and enrich each other.

and some close-ups:

Another technique that can be used to great advantage with overmarbling is masking, but that will wait for another blog.

Three more posts on overmarbling: More  Playing  Addendum


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