Art and Math

Bubbles & Connections

Sometimes it feels like the universe is conspiring to remind me of connections.

Years ago I played around with decorating papers with colored bubbles.

“Bubble marbling” is a simple technique that can create some really fun images. I’ve hardly ever done this with kids because it can get really messy. I did teach it in an adult workshop at Dieu Donné Papermill, NYC many years ago. It caught the eye of Helen Heibert, and, in 2001, she included an image I made with a brief description of the technique in her book, Paper Illumninated, which is a gorgeous collection of instructions about making paper lanterns.

hey, look, I’m in this picture!

Yesterday I showed this bubble technique to groups of kindergartners. By delightful coincidence, I also heard from Helen Hiebert yesterday.

Helen is still making paper lanterns. With the proliferation of LED light strips and other safer options for illumination, paper lanterns make so much more sense now then they did it 2001. Helen was telling me about the on-line course she is teaching, which sounds fabulous, so I am sharing this info with you, too before going on about bubbles any further.

Helen Hiebert's Shadow Lantern Screen
Helen Hiebert’s Shadow Lantern Screen

While it doesn’t appear that she showing any bubble marbling this time around, she is teaching an impressive array of projects that include paper cutting, tessellations, and pop-ups. I am happy to spread the word about this. You can allow yourself to be inspired by looking a video she made at

You can learn about the bubble marbling from me. Now.


Dressing up to do something special
Dressing up to do something special

While it’s not required, it’s not a bad idea to dress up before making a mess. This sets a mood, but it also protects clothing.

Bubble Marbling in action
Bubble Marbling in action

Here’s what to do: put about a tablespoon of paint (tempra, acrylic, any strong pigment but not ink because you would need too much) in a fairly shallow container, preferably round. Add bubble mixture. I buy this ready made, or make it with Ultra Dawn, water, and a touch of glycerin. Now mix the paint REALLY REALLY well with the bubble solution. Place a straw in the bubble solution, blow gently, like blowing bubbles into milk. Make the bubbles just high enough to be above the rim of your container. Then GENTLY lay a piece of paper onto the bubbles and remove.

Bubble Prints
Bubble Prints

That’s it. They dry fast. You can overlay colors on top of each other. So much fun. But there’s more. There’s something to notice.

Three fold symmetry
Three fold symmetry

Yesterday, doing this with these kids, I reminded them of the three-fold symmetry projects that we did a couple of weeks ago…then

Looking at the symmetry of how the bubbles meet each other

I showed them that the shape we used to make the our three-fold symmetries is the same as the shape that the bubbles make where they meet. And everywhere they meet they make this same shape.

Now that’s a connections worth noticing.

They loved seeing this. Then they said, It looks like a soccer ball!


Symnetry like a soccer ball
Symmetry like a soccer ball

I’m learning that anything that looks like hexagons reminds kids of soccer balls. I can live with that.