Swirl Painting with Enamel Paints, and ShineKids

A few months back I fell in love with this piece of art I saw in a model home. 
{Actually it's a reproduction on canvas, not the original artwork.} 

I can't draw a face or a still life to save my life but thought I might be able to paint something like this for my living room.  My online search for a method to my madness led me to watching youtube videos with Seanie snuggled on the couch next to me, and we became completely enchanted by a painting method we'd never seen before:  swirl painting in water.

This weekend the kiddos and I gave it a try, and it turned out to be nothing short of magical for children and mother alike:

Apparently this method of painting is very popular for customizing guitars.  After watching videos of guitars being swirl-painted in a water bath (like this one), we decided to try the same method on paper and canvas.

It was so much fun!  Give it a try!

Supplies needed:
bucket (large enough to lay canvas or paper across or deep enough to submerge)
kitchen string
paint stick
oil based* enamel paints (we used TESTOR .25 oz. bottles of enamel paint used for craft projects.  They were found near the wood crafts at Michaels and are $1.59 each.)
UPDATE:  Readers have informed me that water based enamels do NOT work for this so make sure the enamel paint you buy is OIL based.  

Fill a bucket with water, drip enamel paint onto the surface of the water (1), gently swirl the paint (2 & 3), and then dip a canvas or paper into the bucket.  The swirled paint sticks to the canvas or paper, creating a unique piece of art (4).

We started swirling with a stick, but found that a piece of kitchen string pulled the paint without combining the colors too much.   We held each canvas by a corner, dipping it slowly into the water and moving towards the paint on the surface of the water.  Before pulling the canvas out of the water, we used a paint stick to "pull" the remaining paint in the water to the side so the canvas wouldn't get double dipped when it was removed from the bucket.

In between batches of different paint colors, we used a paper towel, laid on top of the water, to absorb any leftover bits of paint and clean up the water surface.

Do you see the fishy about to gobble up a bubble?

This was my favorite one - too bad the design is on the back of the canvas!

We also used cardstock that we laid on top of the paint instead of submerging.  Once the entire piece of paper is touching the water, slowly lift up a corner of the paper, pull up the piece and a beautiful design will emerge.

Sean also dipped the corners of his ripstick.  
This came out kind of bubbly and funky.  The guitar artists (some of them truly are works of art!) from youtube primed the guitar first, so if you are using this method to swirl paint objects (a jewelry box perhaps?) you may want to prime first, so your paint job comes out nice and clean.

Swirl painting is messy, but truly so engaging!!  Each design is different and the enamel paints adhere to the surfaces in such interesting ways.  The red you see here is also the background pink - in some areas it spread out in a thin film and in others, the paint sat on top of the water in a solid mass.  Your final design depends on how you manipulate the paint.

Word to the wise:  figure out where you are going to put your wet art. The canvases had paint on both sides so they needed to be hung, but if you paint just one surface you can lay it out on a dropcloth.  I completely forgot to prepare a spot for the artwork to dry, so I scrambled and used Peter's pull-up bar in our garage to hang clothespins from kitchen string - along with leftover curtain rings with clips! - hung over a dropcloth.

Swirl painting might be our favorite craft ever!

Over the years I've posted kids' crafts on the blog every once in a while {I never cease to be amazed that the ribbon barrettes I wrote about ages ago continue to be one of my most visited blog posts!}  My kiddos think it's high time I share such posts on a regular basis, so starting this weekend, a couple times a month I'll share some fun activities for the munchkins in your life.

This weekend I'll share another method of swirl painting with acrylic paints - great for little ones to do at your kitchen table!

As far as my living room art is concerned:  the first couple attempts were complete fails - but I'm trying again - stay tuned!


Carmel @ Our Fifth House said...

These are so beautiful! I know my kids would love to make these!

Kim@Chattafabulous said...

I love your inspiration piece as well! And the green one you did looks like malachite! So excited - I need some unique art pieces in my family room and I love these colorful pieces!


Dana Frieling said...

Bryn and I tried this method with nail polish/nail art. It was really cool but tons of work. Definitely something that takes practice to perfect. Love that the "Shine Kids" will be a regular on your blog!

Sam @ The Junk House said...

Those turned out great! I love this idea! I want to try it.

pam {simple details} said...

Oh my gosh, Lisa!! It is so cool, do you think I'd be in trouble if I tried it in the bathtub? Ha! Wouldn't a collection of them be amazing ~ several symmetrically hung in white frames. (I'm sure you were laughing at my blow dryer & spoon!) Love...Shine Kids!

Cassie @ Primitive & Proper said...

that looks amazing and i love love love the idea of shine kids!

My Crafty Home Life said...

This is a great project, and it looked like everyone had a great time.

Donna Benedetto said...

Your pieces came out fantastic!
Check out a Japanese type of painting called Suminagashi, very similar and beautiful!
Thanks for sharing.

Jenny said...

How totally cool! I could see my kids doing this and love the end result - such neat designs and color combinations, the possibiities are endless!

And the ribbon barrettes, I remember being *obsessed* with those back in the day!

Kathy C. said...

This is a fantastic idea! I can't wait for Avery to get older and start doing crafts like this!

Kelly @ View Along the Way said...

No way! I LOVE the way this looks. Totally sharing this on my facebook page right this second.

Nancy said...

This outcome is fantastic, and what fun making it all happen! Great post- wish I could do this in a huge scale, hmmm , going to put my mind to it.
xo Nancy

Jessamie {Bird and Branch Redesign} said...

Seriously, this is such a cool idea! I actually just painted with enamel paint for the first time this weekend, and I'm hooked.

Jennifer @ Dimples and Tangles said...

Pretty! These remind me of super close-ups of natural stone-malachite, turquoise, etc. A grouping of these would be such great wall-art!

Cindy Locher, BCH, CI, MNLP said...

Thanks so much for the easy to understand directions. Well be trying it this weekend--maybe custom wrapping paper?!

Mo said...

These are great. I just tried my first batch. Did you find that you had to use a lot of the enamel paint? A little does not seem to go A long way.

MyChilepepper said...

Good idea. Try placing two canvas boards back to back with masking tape along the edges. Now You have your two favorites.

Kathy Murphy-Ott said...

I just tried this for a second time and had trouble. I used FolkArt Enamels and the paint just globs up and sinks to the bottom. I've tried this in both warm and cold water. What might I be doing wrong?

Kathy Murphy-Ott said...

I just tried this (using FolkArt Enamels) and had trouble both times I've tried it. The paint just globs up and sinks to the bottom. I've tried in both warm and cold water to see if that made a difference, but I got the same result. Any ideas what I might be doing wrong?

Lisa @ Shine Your Light said...

Kathy we used enamel paint that comes in little glass bottles and used for painting model planes and cars. Testors is the brand. Maybe this kind of paint is a different weight to the Folk Art enamel. Possibly try thinning the Folk Art enamel with paint thinner next time? This is a link to the brand we used: http://www.amazon.com/Testors-Enamel-Paint-25oz-Orange-Fluorescent/dp/B007KMUM9U/ref=pd_bxgy_ac_img_y

Kathy Murphy-Ott said...

Thank you!!!

Julie Ann Wash said...

I too used Folk art paints and they sank in clumps to the bottom - so do NOT try this with the bottles that are just like normal Acrylics. I tried thinning them and it did no good. they weren't vibrant, and were just a watery mess. Going back to the store to try again with the Testers! After some research it looks like the Testors brand of enamel paints are oil based, unlike the Folkart which is water based!

Kathy, perhaps you could update your instructions to reflect that to avoid those of us who are simply globbing to the bottom of our buckets!

Everything home said...

Very cool! I think I need to try this

What's For Dinner said...

I have tried this and my paint immediately sinks to the bottom. Won't float on the water at all. What am I doing wrong?
I am using regular craft paints.


Lisa @ Shine Your Light said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa @ Shine Your Light said...

THANK YOU to everyone who tried this for your comments about paint that sinks to the bottom! Apparently some enamel paints are water based which DO NOT work for swirl painting in water - they immediately sink to the bottom - so make sure your paint is OIL BASED! Here is the link to the TESTOR brand that we had success with:


I have edited the tutorial and appreciate everyone's feedback!!

Nathan Gordon said...

I have been watching this all week long I haven't seen anything I've been so excited about in so long! I am amazed and I will be trying this ASAP!!!!Probably this weekend...which is far too long away for me...i'm thinking my daughter needs to paint her nails tonight!!