Saturday, March 29, 2008

Background tutorial

This is my favourite background technique ever! I use it for almost everything, these days. (Almost. It doesn't work very well on canvas...)

Materials needed:
hot press watercolour paper (I use Fabriano Artistico 200lb)
fluid acrylics in a variety of colours

1. Paint a small patch of gesso onto the watercolour paper. I usually do a 2"x2"square or triangle. Use enough gesso that it won't dry immediately, but don't put it on too thick, either. The good old trial-and-error method will show you how much is too much.

2. Lay the newspaper over the painted patch, and rub gently to ensure full contact with the gesso. Leave in place for a slow count of 10-15. Again, trial and error will show you how much time you need.

3.Slowly peel back the newspaper. If you've done it right, you will see a mirror-image of the text left behind on the gesso.

If you've inadvertently left the newspaper on too long, some of the paper may be left adhering to the gesso when you pull the newspaper back. This is not a problem. It absorbs the paint differently than the rest of it, and looks interesting. Remember, there are no mistakes here, only opportunities :)

4. Repeat the above steps til the entire surface is covered with print/gesso. Remember to rotate the newspaper each time for visual interest. Also, try to use various sizes of fonts (headlines or ads, for example). Pictures usually look interesting too.

Let it dry for a while (although, if it's still damp in spots when you start painting, that gives an interesting effect too...)

5. Time to get out the paints. For this one, I used pthalo blue (red hue), quinacridone crimson, transparent yellow oxide, burnt umber (light) and iridescent copper light (fine). Also a nice big paint brush.

Dilute a blob of paint with a lot of water. You want a very translucent coat of paint, so you can still see the newsprinting through it.

Start painting! Leave plenty of white space on your first coat, so the other colours can glow through.


with crimson:

and yellow:

and burnt umber + a light brushing of copper to make it shine:

and you're done!

If you'd like the ATC at the top of the post, that was created using this background, leave a comment. I'll draw a name in a few days.


  1. Love to have it. It's beautiful. And thanks for the detailed instructions and pics. Sounds like an interesting background. One day...

  2. the atc is beautifull and i love the background. i can't wait to see it for real

  3. Gorgeous Wendy! Beautiful tutorial!

  4. Wendy, the tutorial was so clear even I could follow it! Thank you. Love the atc and thanks for the chance to have it.

  5. I love the background technique! I can't wait to see it up close and personal- hope the atc comes my way, too.

  6. Wendy, this is super! I definitely want to try it -- your explanation is very clear. Now I can't wait to see it in person when the swap envelope arrives!


  7. This is a wonderful ATC Wendy and I would love it. The technique sounds really interesting but are there other things that can be substituted for yours. I can't get those here (paper or the Golden Products.)

  8. A fantastic background!!! Can't wait to get one :-)) The step-outs are great!!! And your atc is gorgeous... hope I win, hope I win, lol.

  9. Thanks for the wonderful tutorial, Wendy! I'm very happy to have found your blog. Love your atc too!

    greetings from holland


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