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)
water
kitchen string
paint stick
heavy paper like card stock, or canvas (we used 8×10 canvases which fit in our bucket well)
enamel paints*

*IMPORTANT UPDATE:  after some readers had failed attempts with various kinds of paints, I am linking directly to the kind of enamel paints we used – Testors Enamel Paint – commonly used on models and crafts. If you don’t buy this particular kind, make sure you do not get water-based paint – it doesn’t work for this application.


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!

Swirl-painting supplies:
Testors Enamel Paint
8×10 canvas sheets 

This post may contain affiliate links, but only to items I like and use myself and would recommend to you; the small commission I receive from affiliate marketing offsets the cost of running this blog. Thank you for supporting Shine Your Light.

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