ArtLex Art Dictionary



marbling - Mottling or streaking that resembles the veined texture of marble. To mottle or streak with colors and veins using painting techniques to simulate the appearance of marble. Such painting on hard surfaces, such as furniture and architecture is sometimes called faux-marble. It is frequently employed where the price or weight of authentic marble is prohibitive.

Faux-stone fresco painting was widely used in Pompeii, in a style called incrustation. The craft was revived in Europe during the Renaissance with two schools of faux marbling developing. The Italian school was loose and expressive, while the French school was formal and realistic. It took most apprentices ten years or more to fully master the art. The most recent revival of faux-marbling started in the 1980s. Some advice on how to do faux-marbling can be found at the end of this article.

"Marbling" can also refer to the application of oil paints floated on water onto paper. Marbled paper was commonly used as endpapers in books bound in the nineteenth century.


Examples of marbled paper:


Charles W. Woolnough (British, n.d.), Author; London: G. Bell, 1881, Publisher, The Whole Art of Marbling as Applied to Paper, Book Edges, etc. Containing a full Description of the Nature and Properties of the Materials Used, the Method of Preparing Them, and of Executing Every Kind of Marbling in Use at the Present Time, 1881, printed book; 82 p. : 5 ill. , 31 [i.e. 39] , col. pl. (part mounted) ; 21 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
see thumbnail to rightIllustrated: Progressive stages of Spanish marbling, from The Whole Art of Marbling. (pages 48-49)


an assortment of five marbled papersmarbled paper, a volute of mostly blue

see thumbnail aboveFive marbled papers with combed patterns, created by moving various rakes or combs through colors that are applied over an uncombed "stone" pattern. Here are five contemporary Italian marbled papers for which no comb was used, making them look more like natural marbles. And here are six contemporary marbled papers from Thailand.


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Professional faux-marblers use a variety of techniques to closely imitate real marbles. Amateurs should be content simply to suggest the appearance of marble rather than accurately represent a particular stone. It is quite possible for a beginner to produce a pleasing effect with a little practice. using scumbling, sponging and feather-streaking techniques on a gessoed and painted surface.


How to paint faux marble:


  1. White oil-based eggshell paint -- sometimes known as semigloss of softsheen.
  2. Boiled linseed oil -- available at a hardware or paint store. It is used to slow the paint drying time.
  3. Turpentine or mineral spirits -- to thin the paint and clean the brushes.
  4. A tube of black artist oil paint -- one tube of "lamp black" can be plenty, even for a fairly large area.
  5. Brushes -- one of which should be good quality and very sof.
  6. Two feathers -- goose feathers are the traditional favorite, but any large feather will do.
  7. Some rags or lint-free cloths.


  1. Obtain some good photos (if not actual pieces) of the sorts of marble you'd like to emulate. Google Images displays p ictures of some found on the Internet. These will give you a better understanding of how to use the techniqes described below.
  2. Clean the surface well, then cover it with eggshell paint and let it dry overnight. The following day, paint the surface with a thin coat of linseed oil. This slows the drying time of the paint considerably and keeps it workable. Next mix the black oil paint with a little of the white eggshell to produce a light gray. Scatter texturing passages of this over the linseed oil base. Use other shades of gray to fill in gaps so there is a swirly design of color.
  3. Use a soft, dry paintbrush (two or three inches wide) to blend the color. Dab a rag over the surface to break up the color and remove excess paint, then blur the surface again with the dry brush.
  4. Use a thinner brush to add passages of light veining in a middle-value gray. Veins should not cross one another, neither starting nor stopping suddenly, nor should they ever radiate from any point. They must progress in what appear to be random diagonal directions, never straight or otherwise predictable ones. If required, color can be removed from part of the surface by dipping a brush in mineral spirits, and lifting the color off with the brush. Then thoroughly scumble the whole surface with a dry brush, a natural sponge or a crumpled cloth.
  5. Add fine veining with a feather. Dip the feather in mineral spirits and roughly brush backwards to separate the barbs. Then add fine wiggly veins by brushing them in with dark gray paint. Use a feather to add light colored veins after dipping it into off-white paint or after into mineral spirits. If you use mineral spirits, a light vein will appear when you drag the feather, by dissolving the uppermost layer of paint. Finally, unify the whole suface by gently scumbling it again with a very soft brush -- badger hair brushes are traditionally favored.


Also see eyedropper and ox gall.




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