I recently took a class that reminded me of a watercolor painting that I did years ago. I was working on Arches 100% rag paper and learned if I had a really awful painting, I could scrub most of the paint off with a toothbrush under running water. So I did that, and ended up with a muted background. I learned to paint around shapes with a dark color and pull out stems and leaves by leaving them the muted underpainting.
Fast forward many years and Elaine Pierce presented a class she said was inspired by me. I didn’t see how, until I took the class and she gave me credit for teaching her how to use napkins in collage. As often happens with my teaching, I present a little technique and my students come up with amazing art. This is why I often brag that although I’m not that great an artist, I must be a great teacher as my students often surpass me with inspired, beautiful art.
In the class, we did a light brush-blend background using colors suited to our chosen napkin color palette. Mine was yellow, gold and white. Then we penciled in our tablecloth, vase and where our leaves would mostly be. We covered these places with bits of our separated napkins. (When using napkins in collage, you separate the white background layer(s) from the colorful top). We used mod podge. We then mixed our background color and painted around our tablecloth, vase and leaves. I had trouble seeing where to put my leaves and covering some up, so I resorted to outlining them with a black sharpie. I added some shadows and white ferns. I finished with 3 coats of varnish.
For the book page spread, I simplified the process. I skipped the underpainting and started with drawing the 3 trees with a black pen. Then I took a variety of napkins and tissue papers to make the trees distinctly different colors in the foliage. I tore the papers into tiny pieces and adhered them with mod podge. You don’t have to be careful to stay within the lines you’ve drawn as you will be redrawing them later. The tree trunks were covered with bits of the inside of a business envelope and a little napkin. We then adhered some dark green tissue at the roots of the trees to pull out some grasses. We took our black pens and redrew the trees taking advantage of the out-of-the-line bits to add a little more interesting shapes to them. We also drew in simple grass shapes. Then we poured out some acrylic paint using a big puddle of turquoise and a little dark blue to make it darker than some tissue we used. We loaded a brush with mostly turquoise and a swish of the dark to create a little variation in the painted surface (though I’m not sure it shows!). We painted around all our drawn shapes. I used the dark blue paint and an angle shader brush to float in some shadows along one side of the trunks, the bottom of the foliage and some in the middle of the leaves.
It is a fun process and you could do this with any kind of background. So go and play!