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Background Techniques for Mixed Media

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

I'm back with a new blog post and the fab news that I plan to bring you a new blog post at least once a week during 2022! To kick things off, I thought I'd start out by covering my overall creative process, so over the next few weeks I'll be going through my process from the beginning and we'll end up with several completed pieces.

I wanted to dig straight into how I create my initial background layer in my work, so this week I'll be going through some of my favourite techniques. The technique I choose, ultimately always comes down to the final effect I'm trying to achieve, so I tend to work in quite a structured way and have a final result loosely in mind. That said, I think it's important not to be too rigid so that I can make the most of the happy accidents that send me off in a totally different direction than that planned. So this week I'll take you through how I made the twelve backgrounds in the image below and next week I'll show you how I develop these at the next stage.

Before we get to the background techniques, lets quickly talk about paper choices. It's true, paper matters and you need to consider what mediums you will be using in the rest of your piece when deciding which papers to buy. When I first started creating art almost five years ago, I thought there would be one paper that did everything I needed, but alas, I soon discovered that it doesn't quite work that way!

There are two main types of paper I use; Mixed Media and Watercolour. This doesn't mean that I only use two papers, in fact I use different weights, brands and finishes of paper for different purposes, so here are some basics to consider.

Mixed Media Paper - There are lots of different brands on the market and this paper is a great option as it is capable of handling a variety of different mediums including ink, acrylic, watercolour and pencil. Pay attention to the finish of the paper, as this will impact on how your colour is absorbed by the paper. The weight of the paper is also important, so think about how much you want it to handle. If you want to do lots of layers, then a heavier weight (eg. 300gsm) works best to prevent the paper warping as you work. Lighter weight papers are a great option for fussy cutting and creating collage elements.

Watercolour Paper - 100% cotton paper is going to give you the best results with watercolour. Cold Pressed paper has some texture to the surface and stands up better to wet wash techniques, whilst Hot Pressed paper has a smooth surface and is better for detailed work. Again, there are lots of brands to choose from and whilst they all handle the water and pigment slightly differently, I find that as long as I stick to the 100% cotton rag papers, I get consistently good results.

So now your paper choices are covered, lets get into some techniques you can use for that initial background layer.

Flat Colour

Starting a piece with a flat wash of colour is a great choice when you want all the focus to be on subsequent layers. Applying ink or acrylic paint to the gel plate first is an easy way of achieving a more even application of colour to the paper. Using a clean gel plate, there are two options to transfer the ink/paint to the gel plate; you can either load the brayer with the ink/paint; or you can apply it directly to the gel plate before rolling it out evenly with the brayer.

Brayer Texture

Sometimes I like more texture in the background and there's lots of techniques you can use to create this. One of the more straight forward choices the brayer to paper technique and again this works with both ink or acrylic paint. Just remember that ink will rewet and move if further wet layers are applied on top. Simply load the brayer with your medium and use a light hand to roll it directly across the paper. You will get slightly different results using dry paper and paper that has been lightly misted with a sprayer. On the blue piece in this picture I also added some more ink using a blending brush.

Gel Plate Grunge

I love a background which picks up the grungy, crusty bits, leftover from previous gel printing sessions. These subtle patches of texture, usually to the edges of the gel plate, create some background interest without dominating the show. To achieve this result, I don't clean my gel plate in between sessions so that bits of acrylic paint build up. Then when I get the plate out again, I simply brayer on an even layer of acrylic paint and pull the print. If you don't pick up quite as much crustiness as you wanted to, try quickly reapplying the paper to the crusty gel plate and pull it quickly up to see what else sticks on.

Sponge and Brush

Acrylic paint is a good choice if you want the background to be permanent once dry. This enables you to apply further wet layers on top with confidence that the original colour layer isn't going to budge. On these backgrounds I've used a mix of brush and sponge techniques. For the background on the left hand side, I applied acrylic paint to a dry brush and using a light hand dragged it from the top to bottom of the page to create the lightly striped effect. On the middle piece I applied the paint by dabbing a sponge all over the page. This is a really nice way of using multiple colours and creating a soft, cloudy effect and if you want to see the technique demonstrated, check our Leandra Franich's posts on the PaperArtsy YouTube page. On the right hand piece I misted the paper with water and added another spritz of water to some acrylic paint I squeezed out onto my craft mat. I then applied it using a wet brush to get a softer, more even application.


A splatter background just creates drama all of its own. I love the play between colours and it's a quick and easy way to create a unique background every single time. I like to keep white space in my work, so techniques where you can keep control are always a favourite.

There's lots of options to create splatters. Sprays are a good option and can be used direct to paper to apply a lot of colour or you can keep more control and use a craft mat for application. For the two pieces on the left of the image, I sprayed each colour onto a craft mat, one at a time and then splashed my paper in the colour, drying in-between each colour to layer. Placement of the paper controls where the colour is applied and you can curl the paper in your hand for further control. Tim Holtz is the absolute master of this technique, so check out his videos on YouTube for demo videos.

Powder stains/dyes are also a great way to create a splatter effect. Lightly tap powder across the paper and lightly spritz with water to get splatter with real variety of pattern. There's slightly less control with this method, however, with the mix of pigments in many powders of this type, makes it a really easy method to get multiple colours in a really natural pattern.

So there you have it, my favourite techniques for creating an initial background layer for my mixed media paper pieces. I hope this gives you some more insight into my process and perhaps encourages you to break out your supplies and get creative. Making backgrounds is a great way to ease off the creative pressure switch and just have fun with your supplies. The bonus is, you will also have a pile of pieces you can use in future makes. I'd love to see what you make or share hints and tips, so either comment below or tag me on social using #victoriawildingcreates and don't forget to check back in next week, to see what I do with these backgrounds next.

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