Bubble Background Tutorial

You may remember bubble backgrounds from elementary school. It’s fun, satisfyingly messy and gives consistently good results. I can be done on almost any paper, although thick, uncoated stock works best.

Here is the step-by-step for the Grown-Up Artist version of Bubble Background.


  • Newspapers, because this is messy
  • Acrylic paint in several colors. Thick body acrylics work best. Watercolor in tubes will work, but acrylic are opaque, and that’s what you want.
  • Straws. Bendy straws are best
  • Clean water in a pourable container
  • Dishwashing soap. Not dishwashER soap, not shampoo
  • Paper towels. This is messy
  • 3 small bowls, smaller than cereal bowls. If you don’t have condiment bowls, use paper cups cut down. About 2 inches tall is all you want. A bowl is nicer because it has a wider mouth. I used small bowls because they photograph well.

Materials, ready to go.


1. Put paint in bowl. About a teaspoon.
2. Pour water over paint. About a quarter cup.

Photo above:  Not enough paint. I added more later.
3. Use straw to stir water and paint together well.Squirt about 2 teaspoons of soap into bowls.
4. Stir soap and paint water together.

5.  Put the straw into the paint/soap water and blow gently to create bubbles. Start slowly and pick up speed. The bubbles should rise over the rim of the bowl.

6.  Pick up a sheet of paper and put it flat down over the bowl. If you touch the paper to the bowl, it will leave a ring of paint. This can be interesting. The bubbles will leave a print of color on the paper.

7.  Put the paper over the whole bowl. I left the bowl showing so you could see both the paper and bowl.

8.  If your bubbles aren’t dark enough, you can use more paint.

  • This sample was flipped over. Note tiny bubbles on upper right corner

[I have no idea how come those bullets are there, but I can neither make them go away nor make the numbers continuous without them. ]

9.  Another way to darken the bubbles is to put the paper on the bubbles, then turn it bubble-side-up and allow the bubbles to pop on the paper. This distributes more paint onto the paper.
  • Yellow acrylic paint bubble background

In the photo above, I did the red first, then the yellow.

In this photo, the color order was yellow, purple, red. A much better mix.

Comparison of one color and three color pages. Both can be used both as they are an in layers or as color-in color. Cutting out a single color square can coordinate nicely with a multi-color background. You can use this technique right in your journal as well.

–Quinn McDonald loves exploring design and color on small surfaces. Her book Raw Art Journaling has several other experiments in it.

6 thoughts on “Bubble Background Tutorial

  1. Cool — this looks so fun! I have some vague memory of trying this with small kids and it was a nightmare because they weren’t old enough to realize that the straws were only for blowing and not for drinking! It never even occurred to me to try it on journal pages! Brilliant!! The effects are so beautiful… thanks for sharing this!

    • Yes, you have to have kids who are old enough not to drink the paint water. You aren’t alone, many an art teacher has discovered this–which is why it is so often done with food coloring and not paint.

  2. WAAY cool! here in central cheyenne we were hammered with golf ball hail and 2.5 inches of rain in 2 hours AND 50 mph gusts, last week and I am still cleaning up the yard. very depressing.

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