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Surface Tension Art Project


That feeling of watching your kid’s creativity flow when they are making arts and crafts is amazing! The cleanup afterward, not so much. We’ve put together an a kids art project that is fun to do, introduces some cool science concepts, and is a cinch to clean up. 

Surface tension art (you can tell your kid it’s “water art” 😉) creates mesmerizing paintings by using the surface of water as the canvas, which is then transferred to a piece of paper.  

The science behind how it works is water molecules working their hardest to stay together, creating a surface layer where they meet the air. The paint you apply to the surface (mostly) floats on top of this tension layer, and the paper you lay over the paint pulls it up through capillary action. 


All You Need:  

  • Acrylic paint 
  • Painting tool- straws, small paint brushes, or string 
  • Toothpick 
  • Water 
  • Water tray- plate or baking pan 
  • Dish soap 
  • Heavy stock paper 
  • Paint cups (one per color, plus one for soap) 

What You Do: 


  1. Cover your work surface with a towel (trust us, it makes the small amount of cleanup a breeze). 
  2. In all but one cup, mix one color of paint with an equal amount of water. You won’t need much… a teaspoon of each will fill almost any canvas! 
  3. In the last cup, add soap and a few drops of water. 
  4. Pour enough water into the water tray to completely cover the bottom. 


  1. Using your painting tool, add drops of paint to the surface of the water gently touching the surface of the water to apply the paint. 
  2. Once you have your colors laid down, dip the toothpick in the soap cup so you can break up the paint colors and form patterns. 
  3. Take a piece of paper (smaller than the water tray!) and gently place it in the center. Let it soak for 5-10 seconds, then carefully remove it and set it onto a towel.  
  4. Art! 

While your kid is waiting for their newest art piece to dry, you can discuss why the paint floated on water, why the soap repelled the paint, and how the paper “pulled” the paint up (capillary action is the same phenomenon found in how roots feed water to a tree).  After it dries, display this great kids art project!