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This L.A. designer is putting an elegant spin on the DIY craft of marbling

First came macramé, then ceramics, indigo dying and quilting.

Los Angeles designer Paige Cleveland is revisiting another DIY craft tradition: hand-painted marbling.

In this delicate process, paints are floated in a liquid. The artist then takes advantage of the surface tension of the paints, which keep their distinct color yet spread to make contact. A sheet of paper or a textile swath is then gently and quickly laid on top of the bath for the design to transfer.

Cleveland recalled the first time she saw marbling demonstrated, by Ventura-based artist Jim Anderson, as part of a continuing education class at the Otis College of Art and Design that she'd enrolled in during a period of professional soul-searching.

"Something happened," Cleveland said. The creative lightning bolt moment made her think: "I gotta figure this out. It needs to evolve and have a fresh take."

Cleveland — who at the time was a graphic designer in the fashion industry and museum exhibition fields — began to experiment with applying the time-honored technique to textiles in prints, patterns and colors.

She has since launched a home goods and personal accessories collection, under the Rule of Three brand.

Seating poufs, silk throw pillows, lampshades, eye pillows and oversized canvas totes reflect Cleveland's mastery of the process, exacting color schemes and understanding of scale.

"I'm using the [classic] technique, but in a much different way," Cleveland explained of the complex, multi-step marbling method.

Retailers include Barneys, Nickey Kehoe and Hammer and Spear, as well as interior design clients who collaborate with Cleveland on custom panels to be adapted into items such as wallpaper and window treatments.

Cleveland also practices traditional Japanese shibori dying, a kind of tie-dye treatment. Cleveland aims to keep all aspects of Rule of Three as local as possible, relying on her experience coordinating among L.A. textile contractors from the years she worked at Juicy Couture.

She said an artist and a place helps inspire each new design (Cy Twombly and New Orleans are recent examples), and she then picks a colorway to guide the chromatic combinations.

Her crafts delicately balance deliberate intention with the unpredictability of how paints floating in a viscous bath might behave when those elements make contact with a blank surface.

No two outcomes are exactly alike.

"It's a very organic thing," she says of the aesthetic result that can evoke images of paper and book arts pioneered during the Renaissance in Florence, Italy, while adding a calming, contemporary feel to of-the-moment settings.

Here, Cleveland offers an exclusive look at how she creates marbled textiles on Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions she built. Precision is key. "Everything has its place. It gets arty, and then it gets real dirty," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in print on April 30, 2016, in the Features section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "An elegant spin on marbling craft - SHOPPING" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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