Close up of Nicole Watt creating the throwing stones pattern on a water bath at a paper marbling workshop in Florence Italy.

Paper Marbling in Florence – a Start of Something New


In the fall of 2022, I decided that it was time to take a step back from the crazy pace I was keeping with card making and reevaluate what I really wanted to be doing with my time and art talent.

We were on the other side of COVID and I didn’t want to be chained to my craft desk and livestreams every day, for extended hours. I was done with making cards. It just wasn’t something that hit the mark anymore, and I was awfully tired, perhaps burnt out? So the plug was pulled fully and completely.

Now what?

Knock, knock! The Universe is Calling

If you listen, the Universe is always there to help you along this path we call life.

Back in 2019, the universe planted a seed. I saw a news segment on CBS Sunday Morning about the artisan traditions, including Paper Marbling, in Florence. Though the marbling portion was just a few minutes at the end, it was one of those things that, as a paper artist, really stuck with me. I tucked the interview into my mental filing cabinet thinking I might want to try that someday.

photo of the storefront window at Giulio Giannini e Figlio - paper marbling in florence - a 6th generation, family business.

Fast forward to November 2022 and, because of my decision to stop with card making, here I was with TIME, the willingness to EXPLORE, and the opportunity to TRAVEL… can you hear the Universe calling?

We ended up invited on a Western Med cruise where one of the stops could take us on an excursion to Florence, Italy… a hub of European paper marbling. Instantly, here I was, ready to pluck that mental note out and see what I could explore in the day we had in Florence.

Wouldn’t you know it, the woman who was interviewed back in 2019, Maria Giannini, was still running the business, Giulio Giannini e Figlio, along with her uncle, Guido. They are 5th and 6th generation paper marbling artists running this business that started in 1856 – and they do workshops...

SIGN. ME. UP!

After a few quick emails, I was able to get a workshop for two set up as my husband and I planned on taking the “Florence on your own” excursion from the cruise and there was no way I was going to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually learn how to marble paper, in Florence, where it has been in practice since the 16th CENTURY!

This Artist’s Dream – Paper Marbling in Florence

It was cold. We didn’t have our luggage. But that didn’t matter. We were headed to Florence for the day and I was about to get my art on with a 6th generation master!

The morning of, I received an email from Maria that she was ill, but that her Uncle Guido would be available to do the workshop with us – as long as we didn’t mind that he didn’t know a lot of English. As far as I was concerned, art is it’s own language and English, Italian, it didn’t matter – we would be there.

It was about a 90-minute drive from the port in Livorno to Florence, and fortunately, the cruise line was very good about staying on time and the notoriously fickle Italian traffic cooperated too. We broke off from the tour right away so we could get to our workshop on time. We had to move at a good clip, but that certainly helped to warm us up. Thank goodness there was no rain!

Learning from Guido Giannini, Jr.

We met up eagerly with Guido in their back workshop, chilled to the bone, but ready to have fun with language barriers, paper, and paint.

photo of Guido Giannini demonstrating the art of paper marbling. He is a 5th generation paper marbling master at Giulio Giannini e Figlio in Florence, Italy

First, of course, we learned about the history of Giulio Giannini e Figlio and how they are so entwined with paper marbling in Florence and around the world. He showed us the paints and talked about the water bath, which is thickened with carageenan (a seaweed product). The paint is very thin and is applied with a brush and a tapper (or your finger as the tapper).

He showed us how layers of the same color can create beautiful, classic marbled, or the Throwing Stones pattern as each drop of paint has a distinct outline that you can see.

This is one of the beautiful aspects of paper marbling. The paints do not merge together, so you can use contrasting colors that, in other arts, would turn into various shades of brown. Here they sit in harmony next to each other, never mixing, only sharing the space.

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Time to Dive In!

After Guido’s demonstration, it was our turn. We donned our aprons, and the protective sleeves, because, trust me – just like any other kind of paint splattering, this paint will get everywhere. You can see how there is a beautiful Jackson Pollock kind of patina to the entire workspace. Years and years of beautiful art, layered over each other!

Nicole Watt learning paper marbling in Florence, Italy at Giulio Giannini e Figlio.

For my first sheet, I selected a magenta and blue to explore the Throwing Stones pattern. Here, you just add layer after layer of splattered color across the surface until the pattern density is achieved. As more paint is added, if it is balanced correctly, the surface tension will keep it from spreading too far and the pattern will become tighter and tighter – creating a more saturated result.

When you are ready, you carefully apply your paper in a smooth motion to avoid air bubbles, and voila! The paint sticks to the paper as you carefully remove it and the excess carageenan. I won’t go into detail here on the how-to, except to say that this is a pretty basic idea of what happens. It’s easy to shimmy the paper or not drop it evenly and end up with a stutter in the design, or yes, an air bubble.

This is an art that takes but a few minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master!

Nicole Watt how to apply the paper to the marbled surface with Guido Giannini in Florence, Italy at Giulio Giannini e Figlio.
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Quills and Combs

For my second sheet, Guido had me use a porcupine quill, and one of the many combs available to create two different patterns. I started by throwing stones again – this time green and yellow.

Nicole Watt learning paper marbling in Florence, Italy at Giulio Giannini e Figlio.

Next, I started on the comb pattern, first created by going back and forth with the quill in the Gel-Get fashion. Gel-Get comes from Ebru – the Turkish version of paper marbling, and means back and forth. Then, you take a comb and go across the entire bath slowly to make a beautiful arced pattern.

Nicole Watt running a comb across a painted water bath in Florence, Italy at Giulio Giannini e Figlio.

Once the combed pattern was complete, Guido showed me how to create a swirl pattern on half of the paper using the quill. One must move slowly, otherwise the water bath will move too much, making the comb pattern unclear, and the swirls move out of line. I got a lot of “piano, piano” from Guido… guess this American needed to slow down a bit!

photo of Guido Giannini demonstrating the swirl pattern with a quill. He is a 5th generation paper marbling master at Giulio Giannini e Figlio in Florence, Italy

And, again, to pull the print. This time, I had a beautiful sample with a comb pattern on one side and a swirl(ish) pattern on the other!

Nicole Watt pulling a paper marbled print in Florence, Italy at Giulio Giannini e Figlio.

Of course, I insisted the Brian give it a try too, and he made two beautiful sheets all on his own!

photo of brian trying his hand at paper marbling in florence

Memories for a Lifetime

Not only did this opportunity to learn paper marbling in Florence create a “core memory” for me, it also created a desire to dive into the art on my own and incorporate it into my original mixed media works.

As soon as we got back from the trip, I started doing some research on materials available in the USA and how I could make some custom combs etc. It was months of research, lots of trial and error and many, many episodes of Game of Thrones while I worked away to create all of my tools, and found other tools online like my water bath containers. But, that is a story for another time. Here are the papers we created from our Florence workshop:

Ways To Enjoy My Marbling Projects

As my art shop continues to grow, you will find all sorts of ways that I incorporate my new found paper marbling knowledge into my products and designs. From digital wallpaper to digital papers for your arts and crafts projects, and *hopefully* soon, custom printed sheets and original sheets for sale, not only do I incorporate pieces into my mixed media work, but I allow it to stand alone for you to enjoy as the amazing art it is!

Check out the Paper Marbling tag in my Shop for everything that includes my marbled creations. Here are the latest additions:


Explore Some More!

6 thoughts on “Paper Marbling in Florence – a Start of Something New”

  1. So happy for you!! Exploring and trying new things is a scary, but very rewarding enterprise. It’s very cool that your husband was willing and interested, too, in the creating of art– makes it easier for him to understand when research is taking time and not necessarily producing anything. All worth it now!! Congrats on following your heart.

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