Today I want to share with you a couple of my favorite background techniques for art journaling. They’re all super simple and fun to do. When you find yourself stuck and not knowing where to begin you can always start prepping your pages with these and many other background techniques!
This first technique can be applied in so many ways. Gel medium acts as a resist, so you can stencil, stamp, and paint with it on your surface, then go over it with a wash of paint to reveal the resist. Here, I stenciled on some circles using gloss gel medium and a hand cut stencil that I made.
The gel medium is clear, so it’s a bit hard to see where and how well you’re working, you kinda have to watch it at an angle. Once dry, paint over it with watercolors or slightly watered down acrylics. If the paint is sticking to your gel medium, you can lightly dab it with a paper towel and it should come right up. On this page, I used a lot of water with acrylics, then lifted the book to let it drip. So fun!
You may remember this next technique from grade school. Wash your page with 1-3 colors of watercolor, sprinkle with some table salt, and then watch the magic happen! If you aren’t using watercolor paper, you may want to put a base coat of Absorbent Ground like I did, so that the watercolor flows better on your page. Absorbent Ground helps the paper act more like watercolor paper, making it easier to spread wet mediums.
One of the easiest and fastest ways to create a background is to simply squirt some paint onto your page then move it around with an old credit card or key card. With this technique your paint will dry super quick, you waste little to no paint, and it creates a neat printmaking effect! Scrape the paint up and down, then scrape side to side, letting the colors mix slightly.
When dry, you can add another layer of color like I did here with the black.
One of my absolute favorite ways to add dimension, texture, and interest is to first collage some paper onto the page. You can use just about anything such as old dictionary pages, pages from a phone book, scrapbook papers, magazine clippings, and more. Here, I ripped up pieces of an old dictionary and glued them down with soft gel medium. Once it was dry, I painted over it with watered down blue acrylic paint. I dabbed the page with a paper towel here and there to create a mottled effect, then once it was dry I painted another layer in the same way with purple.
This last technique is super fun, but it takes a long time to do. Squirt a generous amount of gesso onto your page (I like to use Liquitex Basics Gesso), then spread it around with an old credit card or key card.
You want a nice thick layer, almost like spreading spackle. You’ll get a nice texture just by spreading it around, but to take it further you can draw into it with the back of a paint brush, stamp in it (a thick, deep etched stamp works best), scratch it, and more to add texture. With my page, I wrote the word “love” with the back of a paint brush, and stamped into it with a circle stamp.
Then comes the hard part… letting it dry! With such a thick layer, you’ll probably have to leave it out overnight to dry. It will take hours! Once its finally dry, add a wash of color. Here, I used red and orange acrylic paint thinned with water. Before the paint dries, wipe off some of the excess paint with a paper towel. You’ll see how the recessed areas stay darker, and the raised areas get lighter showing off your beautiful texture! With mine, I added a little more paint around the edges to finish it off nicely.
Playing around with different techniques will usually lead to a “happy mistake” or two. Below is an image of one of my happy mistakes trying to do the gel medium resist technique. I put a layer of gold on the page first, then stenciled some small circles with the gel medium. I then did a wash of blue over the top… but the gold paint must not have been dry enough because my blue wash started to turn an ugly green color and got the page all messy. So, I sprayed it with water and rubbed with a paper towel. This lifted most of the paint off the paper, even the gold layer underneath. But, it left the gold circles in tact because they were protected by the gel medium!
Many weeks ago I discovered another way to create texture on the page using gesso. I had just finished prepping my page with a layer of gesso, when I accidentally turned the page. Of course, with the gesso being still wet, the pages stuck together. I was horrified! But after peeling the pages apart, I got excited to see such a neat texture form from the pages pulling apart.
There are infinite amounts of techniques and ways to start adding color and texture to your page. Heck, you don’t even have to start with color and texture… maybe you want to work on a white background! Just play around, experiment, and keep an open mind as you follow your heart. Sometimes, a technique you learn online or in a book will never work out for you, but perhaps you will stumble upon a “happy mistake” of your own!
Bonus Tip: Having a separate journal like I do for experimenting and practicing techniques is a fun way to collect everything you’ve learned and discovered.
Now get out your paints and go play!
Learn more about art journaling
with my free introductory e-course
“Art Journaling 101”.