I like to create my own media for collage with watercolor, gouache and acrylic paint. Painting allows me to create multiple sheets of paper in the colors, patterns and texture I want for each collage.
I apply paint to recycled magazine papers and other paper media. I like to work in mixed media collage, and include hand-made papers, decorative papers, my own drawings and prints to the painted papers, and often paint papers to match colors of other papers.
See my online tutorial on painting papers.
I told the class that two of my favorite collage artists – Romare Bearden and Henri Matisse – worked with painted papers. Bearden painted his own papers, typically in watercolor. Matisse had studio assistants paint his papers for him in gouache.
The image above is acrylic paint on drawing paper, done by one student in the Pelham collage class.
We worked with a plastic palette knife. Almost every student I meet has no experience or almost no experience painting with a palette knife. I tell them it’s so easy to get really good results with this technique.
It’s a simple technique
The image above is a selection of 9 papers done with palette knife and acrylic paints by one student in the Pelham collage class.
I did a simple class demonstration, showed them how to set up their palette of paint colors on a disposable paper plate (plastic coated), and very quickly the students started to paint with the palette knife to make their own painted papers. They created an amazing variety of colors, designs and textures.
I showed them how to apply paint over a film of acrylic medium I applied to white drawing paper. After that, I showed them how to apply acrylic paint directly with the palette knife onto magazine pages.
I like to paint on magazine papers – to recycle pages from art magazines like Artforum, and fashion magazines like W because the pages in those magazines are heavier than typical magazines. I don’t recommend using news magazines for painting papers, because the paper is thin and curls when you apply paint or glue, and is difficult to work with in collage.
How to work with acrylic paint:
Use any good brand of acrylic paint. The better brands are usually more expensive because they include more paint pigment. The colors are richer and the coverage is better. I recommend students work with gloss or satin acrylic medium to make the paint thinner. I tell students not to use water to thin the paint.
I often buy art supplies online from Jerry’s Artarama and NY Central Art Supply.
When I am in NYC, I stop by NY Central Artists Supply at 62 Third Avenue. Their paper department is incredible and they ship everywhere.
Dick Blick is another good resource for acrylic, gouache and other art supplies.
Tools for the Workshop
In the class demo, I tell students to squeeze out dots or small ½ inch strips of acrylic from the paint tube onto a plastic coated disposable paper plate, and leave some space in the center of the plate so colors can be mixed.
The image above shows a plastic and a metal palette knife, a 1 inch soft paint brush, a paper cup, tubes of gouache paint, a single tube of acrylic paint and the book titled Jazz (about the artist Henri Matisse).
When I paint papers with acrylic, I typically lay the colors down on a disposable paper palette and mix one color at a time. When I paint papers with gouache, I typically mix the paint with water in a small cup so it’s diluted to the proper consistency. For the class, I wanted everyone to be excited by the possibilities of working with different colors and with mixing colors as they painted.
I also mix colors directly on the paper. First, I squeeze acrylic gloss or satin medium from the container directly onto the paper and brush it across, then squeeze dots of acrylic paint out of the tube directly over the medium and move it around with the palette knife to create stripes, patterns and transparencies.
The swirly painted image above is by a student who tried that technique. She applied paint directly over gloss acrylic medium and moved the paint with the palette knife to create transparencies and pattern.
The palette knife can be made of plastic or metal. I supply plastic palette knives. I also work with a metal palette knife. It’s important to wipe the knife clean, especially when changing colors, and never allow the paint to dry onto the knife (acrylic paint can dry quickly).
I urge students to wipe the paint off the knife with a paper towel so that the paint on the knife doesn’t get mixed into water (it they dip the knife into a water container). It’s not good for the environment to pour paint dissolved in water down the drain.
The image above shows Matisse in his studio in Nice, France in 1952 (this image is included in the book titled the Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse, by John Elderfield, published by George Braziller, NY).
All of Matisse’s collages were created with painted papers. His studio assistants painted his papers for him with gouache.
Matisse said he painted with scissors. He called his works paper cut-outs (gouache decoupes). Read about the Technique of the Cut-Outs…
The image above, a collage in painted papers, is by Matisse and is titled Creole Dancer (image courtesy the Internet). Notice it is organized as pieced blocks of paper in the background, overlaid with cut out shapes. Notice the painted papers show variations in color saturation and paint density because they are hand-painted.
I tell my students that Matisse did not discard papers that were cut out and that landed on the floor. Notice the image above with Matisse in his studio and all the papers on the floor. Notice his cut-outs were typically curved and organic in shape and referenced nature.
The image above is by a student in the Pelham class. She painted papers, and while the paints were drying, she created a collage with colored papers I supplied. Before she glued the papers down, she embellished them with oil pastel drawing to make the surface richer and brighter. Notice the oil pastel sticks in boxes nearby.
The class explored many different techniques with painting papers. They layered colors, wet layer over dry layer, to see how the colors changed. They painted with transparent gouache paint over papers painted with acrylic in patterns. They scribbled wax crayon on white drawing paper (a resist process), and applied acrylic paint in both transparent and opaque layers over to see how the crayon showed through. They all liked that.
I told the class that all the papers they created were usable – nothing was a throwaway. Some were so good they were paintings that could get collage additions and be finished as mixed media works. Some were ideal as unique collage papers and could be reproduced if they wanted multiples for large collage projects.
One student created a palette of papers that coordinated with purchased hand-made papers she brought to class. How clever that she mixed colors to compliment other papers she already had (collage artists collect papers for the next collage).
I showed the class how to twirl wet paint on drawing paper as they painted, and create directional patterns.
We talked about the art of the cut-out by Henri Matisse. I hope they were inspired.
I’ve recommended resources for paper and paint above.
Please email me or add comments to the blog if you can share a good resource for paper, paints, and any other media you like to use for collage. Thanks in advance.