Neon Paint Ebru Art on Milk with Soap
Ebru art is a very old method of paper marbling that originated in ancient China. It was later adapted by Turkish artists, and given the name “ebru”. Upon searching for various art techniques, I found some great videos online of people using ebru to make beautiful patterns.
Additionally, I found videos of people using milk, soap and food coloring to yield more exciting footage. I was interested if it was possible to merge the two methodologies from the videos and create something beautiful myself. So naturally, I designed some experiments to learn more about the properties of paint in milk while treating it with soap. First, I made 3 dilutions of paint in water and dripped them onto a small basin of skim milk.
Dilutions in the photo above from left to right are:
-1:3, Paint:Water ratio (1 part paint, 3 parts water)
-1:1, Paint:Water ratio (equal parts paint and water)
-3:1, Paint:Water ratio (3 parts paint, 1 part water)
I thought the 1:1 and 3:1 mixtures looked cooler than the 1:3 mixture. I decided to move ahead with my soap experiments using basins with the 1:1 mixture.
Next, I wanted to test how dabbing different dilutions of Soap:Water mixtures onto the paint would disperse the design. I made mixtures like above, substituting paint for soap. I then coated the end of a skewer with each soap dilution and saw dramatically different dispersion intensities of the paint. You can see a video of this experiment below:
I decided that a 1:3 Soap:Water ratio was best for dabbing on the paint. Any higher amount of soap caused too intense of a dispersion pattern. With this knowledge, I decided to dab each of my paint dilutions from earlier (also in the video). The pictures below show the results:
Ultimately, I decided to use a 3:1 Paint:Water mixture and dab with a 1:3 Soap:Water mixture in my final ebru painting. I made my ideal mixtures with multiple paint colors and set up my work space with a large basin full of skim milk.
Dripping all the different colors onto the milk basin together looked really cool. Things expand and push each other out of the way almost like the paint is alive. Since it’s all fluorescent in the black light, the colors are intensely vibrant.
Once you dab in the soap, the colors disperse and make little pockets absence of color, adding contrast and pushing surrounding colors aside.
I tried running the skewer through the paint to drag the colors in one direction. It sort of pinches the colors together and swirls depending on how aggressive you are. The colors swirling together is probably one of the most satisfying things to observe about this whole process. But once they are done swirling, the paint ends up being a dense mess of color. Still beautiful, but in a very different way.
When you zoom in closer with the camera, you can get a bunch of detail about each of the patterns. Below are some of the best close-ups:
It even looks kind of cool under normal light too. Maybe it looks a little bit like puke. But very colorful puke.
But the true work of art is watching it all happen in real time. That’s why I made this video below:
So why does this work? Milk is an emulsion of protein and fat. The paint floats on the surface because it is less dense than milk. Soap contains surfactants, which change the surface tension of liquids. Once the soap touches the surface of the liquid, it disrupts the cohesion of fat and protein molecules, resulting in the paint dispersion effect.
It would be interesting to try further experiments regarding the fat content in solution. Maybe using milk with higher fat content or treating the paint with oil (which is basically all fat molecules).
1.) It is possible to make ebru art using acrylic paint as a medium, and skim milk as a canvas.
2.) A 3:1 Paint:Water mixture is ideal for making soap dispersion patterns.
3.) A 1:3 Soap:Water mixture is ideal to prevent rapid surface tension collapse when introduced to the paint.
4.) Swirling the paint can produce beautiful designs, but eventually results in an aggregate of color particles.
Filmed and photographed by C.