Step 1: Materials
watercolor paper or block
bowl of water
drinking glass or mug
liquid watercolor - I started by making my own liquid watercolor with markers, but you can also use watercolor from a tube or buy some liquid watercolor.
Step 2: Mix
Mix your liquid watercolor with dish soap. This isn't an exact science, but I ended up mixing it in equal parts.
Note: I mixed in a bowl to better photograph it, but you can mix it directly in your cup.
Step 3: Dampen
Dampen your paper with a sponge. You don't want it to be drenched, but it needs to be damp enough to absorb the paint. This can take a bit of trial and error, but it didn't take me long to figure out the proper amount.
If you add too much water, the paint bubbles will bleed excessively and the bubble shapes will be fuzzy or even imperceptible. Too little water, will cause the paper to pop the bubbles and not soak up the paint.
Note: If you're an artist looking to make some beautiful paper for a project, I recommend using a block of watercolor paper instead of sheets. Watercolor blocks are pads of paper that are glued on all edges instead of just the top to prevent the paper from wrinkling. If you're just playing with the kids, sheets will be fine.
Step 4: Blow
Use your straw to blow bubbles in the soapy paint like a child with chocolate milk. If you blow your bubbles in the center of the cup, you're more likely to get larger bubbles. I personally like the smaller bubbles, so I pressed the end of the straw into the bottom edge of the cup while I blew. This made smaller bubbles.
When the bubbles get above the rim, remove the straw, and touch your damp paper to the bubbles.
If you've applied an appropriate amount of water to your paper, some of the bubbles will stick to your paper. If the bubbles don't stick, add a bit more water to another section of the paper and try again.
Set the paper down, and you can watch the bubbles pop. If you can't see the bubble shapes after they pop, use less water on the next round.
Repeat the process until you're happy with your painting.
If you do this outdoors on a hot summer day like I did, you don't need to wait long for each section to be dry enough to add more water and bubbles. It only took about 5 minutes for the paint to dry, and by the time I had worked my way around the paper, I was able to add more on the sections I started with.
Step 5: Add Colors
You can also add more colors.
Here I layered pink over the blue.
Step 6: Darker Color
I loved the subtle color from my homemade liquid watercolor, but for a darker image, I tried both tubed watercolor and some silver metallic liquid watercolor. If you use the tubed watercolor, you'll need to dissolve it into some water before mixing it with the dish soap.
Step 7: For the Artist
I wanted to use the bubbles as an element in an artwork. I love portraits, and using the bubbles for hair seemed like a fun idea. I started with a sketch, added the bubble painting, added some traditional wet-on-wet watercolor for the skin color, added colored pencil for details, and then went back in with more bubbles to fill in gaps or add more shadow where it was needed.
Tip: When you want the bubbles added to a smaller section of your painting, you can scoop the bubbles from the cup with a spoon to apply them to the paper. You can also use a brush to apply the water to the paper in specific areas. Using a brush allows you to control more where the bubbles will stick and absorb.
Don't let my idea box you in. The application of bubble painting to an artist's style and technique is limitless.