Thursday, January 13, 2011

Marbeling tutorial

After looking at the photos and hearing your comments, I decided to do a faux marble finish on the Blue and White room's fireplace mantelpiece.

And I took pictures :)

1.  Reference photo  When you're doing any kind of faux finish (and that includes many things we do in the miniature world, from making mini food out of polymer clay to faking bricks on the inside of a fireplace), it's best to have a reference photo, or several.

Here's mine, which you may have seen in an early post -- it's from Chatsworth House:

I like the idea of a grey marble mantel to cut some of the "prettiness" of the gold wall colour.

2.  Base colour   Most marbles begin with a pale base colour, either white or cream.  This one certainly could have, but I decided to start with a deep base colour, namely the tester pot of Amherst Gray last seen as the stone coloured test wall behind the blue and white plates.  It's just about perfect!  I painted both the hearth and mantle with two coats.  (NB:  This is a plaster mantel.  At a couple of small points (including one of the caryatid's noses) I moved too quickly with my water-based paints and sort of "melted" tiny bits of the plaster!  Probably best to let things dry thoroughly between coats, instead of going at it like a mad thing all in one gasp, the way I did :)

3. Two colours of glaze.  In order to create this look, the paints you put on top of the base coat need three properties:  they need to be somewhat transparent,  they need to be "smooshable" i.e. moveable, and they need to have a longish open time, i.e. they can't dry too quickly.  This is especially important because I'm using ordinary artist's acrylic paints -- they dry quickly and hard. 

There are many products for acrylic paints which make a great base for a glaze -- I used a matte medium.  Any acrylic medium that extends the drying time will work beautifully.

Working very quickly, paint on diagonal wiggly lines of the two colours (I used raw umber and the wall colour, a pale gold).  I painted the raw umber first, and you can see in the photo below it's drying already -- not good!  (You can also see that all this detail is going to be a pain in the arse to marbellize :))

This one is better, on the top of the mantle :) Smooshier, wetter.

Now take a small piece of cotton cloth or a bit of sponge, and smoosh the two colours gently together.  You'll still see some of the base coat, and you should still be able to make out the two coloured glazes.  Refer to your reference photo.

3.  Veining.   Once you've got the glazes to your liking, it's time to add veining, one of the most characteristic features of marble.  Most marbles have white veins, some marbles are veined in black. My example has white veining, but also areas of a burnt sienna sort of warm red colour.   I perhaps should have put that in as a glaze, but I'll do it with a small brush at this point, instead :)  Use a very, very fine brush.

In general, veining follows the lines of the coloured glazes, with little side trips :)

4.  Final details and varnish.  Go back over your piece, referring to the photo.  Look at it from a distance and close up.  Does it please you?  You can always use your base paint to tone things down or to "erase" areas that aren't pleasing and start again :)

Generally the rule of thumb for miniatures is "don't make large things glossy", because too-glossy woodwork or furniture disturbs the illusion of scale.  If anything, we generally use Dull-Kote or other means to try to keep surface finishes from being too reflective.  Marble is an exception -- it's not marble unless it has a suggestion of surface polish.  I used a satin varnish for the fireplace.

And here it is, in the room, this morning! 

Now I'm eyeing all those other white fireplaces in the house .... Look out!  It's a Marble Attack!


  1. Oh Nina, it looks wonderful, I have never had the courage to try the marbling, but I think I will have to one day soon. Emmmmm, when can I move in, it looks like just the right spot to curl up with a book or do some embroidery. The room has really come alive now.

  2. Spot on, Nina! You've made an excellent job of your "smooshing" (fab word!). I also like the varnished finish - you can see the caryatid reflected in the base which makes it very realistic. Thanks for the tutorial.

  3. And I thought it was pretty before - this adds such a sophisticated touch. Very nice!

  4. It's lovely! I've done some marbling on a smaller dollhouse item - I shall have to try a mantel soon.

  5. Mamma mia, che bello!
    The "marble" fireplace makes this room really a masterpiece!
    Of you, I admire the great courage to play around with the brush without fear!
    You are great and thanks for sharing with us this courage :-)

  6. Nina, This looks just so admirable! I compared the fireplace earlier and after..and in my mind it is now so wonderful, the whole room is so aesthetic!

  7. Your fireplace turned out wonderful! Thank you for the great tutorial.

    Victoria ♥

  8. Brilliant, Nina! It makes all the difference and looks so much more realistic! You did a fantastic job with the marbling! And your tutorial makes it look so easy! Now I need to find something to marbleize!

  9. Lovely room and the colours you used for marbeling of your fireplace fits wonderful with the blue-white china porcellan!Jeannette

  10. You make it look easy. Your fireplace is beautiful!

  11. I really appreciate all your comments, guys. I'm happy if anyone can use the tutorial part -- I mostly just want to encourage people to try something, knowing that it never goes exactly the way you think it will, but that there are almost always things you can do to fix mistakes :)

    I started marbling the bedroom fireplace, too -- it's addictive!

  12. This is so brilliant! I've just posted your link on a forum I go too where a member was asking about marbling just a couple of days ago. Thank you. :)

  13. Great blog! I hope, you don't mind, that I posted a link to your Marble Tutorial as "Link of the Day" on my blog:


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