Collage Background 2 (Tutorial)

Not all collage backgrounds have to be smooth, even, or one color. Here are some techniques to try to get a variety of backgrounds.

(No pictures because my paints are packed.)

Common sense warning: wear an apron, cover the floor and work surface with newspapers before you start. This can get messy. Don’t let children try this unsupervised. This tutorial is not meant to be used as instructions for children.

1. Cover your collage base (canvas, watercolor paper), with gesso. Then use a glaze on it. A glaze is a transparent color rather than an opaque one. You can get a glaze by mixing Golden Glazing Liquid with your acrylic paint. You want a thin consistency. Go light on covering areas. It’s a glaze, after all. Don’t paint the whole background one color. Layer glazes on and get amazing color combinations and luminous results.

2. Layer glazes carefully. The only rule that you need to remember is to let each layer of glaze dry before applying the next. Experiment with different colors in different areas to create waves of shades across your background.
3. Some of your acrylics may be more opaque than others. You can see just how opaque by making your own test grid. Once you know more about your colors, try using lights at the top and darks at the bottom of the background. Or move from right to left.

4. Once the glaze is down, but before it dries, you can texture the wet glaze in any layer using cheesecloth, paper towels, old pantyhose, or any other cloth with a distinct texture.

5. Twist a T-Shirt or pantyhose into a long rope. Drip paint onto the coiled fabric. Roll the fabric over the surface of the paper to create a background.

6. Use a sea sponge or kitchen sponge that you have cut into to create craters. Dip it in warm water and wring out as hard as you can. Create a pool of glazed acrylic, dip the sponge in and dot it over your paper. Use light colors first, then darker colors. Top with another color glaze.

7. Use a 1-inch brush (bristle) from the hardware store. Dip it in paint, tap it on the edge of the paint so that it isn’t dripping wet. Hold the brush in your dominant hand and flick your wrist downward so a spray of paint splashes on your collage.

8. Cut out a paper shape (oval, triangle, square, circle, tree, wings) and put it on your collage, then repeat Step 7. Pick up the paper; the space beneath will be free of the color you just used. If you leave the paper on during the entire paint application step, you’ll have a focal point.

9. Use a 1″ foam brush, dip just the leading edge in paint and touch it carefully to the paper to create a vertical line. Repeat right next to it, almost touching. Then turn the brush, and using the same color paint, make a horizontal line on the same level as the top of the two vertical lines, but next to them on the right. Put another line underneath it. Keep making horizontal lines until you have a rectangle of lines–two vertical and enough horizontal to fill the same space. Repeat two vertical lines on the right of the horizontal ones. You are creating a basket-weave pattern. It’s busy, but when done in a glaze, it can add interesting visual texture.

10. Mix some Gel Medium (Golden makes matte, gloss and semi-gloss) with a little acrylic paint. Medium is acrylic paint without color in it. Put it on your collage background rather thickly. Press a piece of toweling (terry-cloth), burlap, or other rough-textured cloth into it. You’ll pick up a lot of the Medium on the cloth, leaving a texture imprint on the collage background. You can use texture plates as well, but in this case, allow the Medium to dry enough to take the imprint without smearing.

–Quinn McDonald is a writing and communication instructor and a mixed media artist. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved.