In my Strathmore online journaling workshop, Building Your Journal from the Page Up I explain to students how I use paper towels as protective sheets when painting backgrounds across a journal spread. (Follow the link to sign up for this free class which is available until July 31, 2011.)
I also recommend reusing any paper towels, when dry, that were soiled with any type of waterproof paint or ink. (Don't reuse a protective towel if you were using watercolors because new water will simply dissolve the previous paint and you might end up with some unintended decoration in your journal.)
Well the other day I was looking down at my own stack of used paper towels and it struck me that in keeping with the workshop's focus on collage those same paper towels had yet another possible use.
Scan your waste towels and alter them in Photoshop and then print them out on the paper of your choice (or fabric!). Use the resultant "decorative" paper by tearing and cutting it into shapes that you can use in your collage work. The custom made paper will be in your favorite color palette, abstract, and full of texture.
Left: Samples of a scanned paper towel that has been digitally altered using various effects in Photoshop. When you find a pattern you like you can make a full-page file and print out your pattern on the paper of your choice (depending of course on the limits of your printer; please follow your printer's manual). When you are working like this I recommend that you create one main file that is your original. Put it in a folder out of harm's way. Then create a copy of that file to work on. As you work through various effects note down the effects and settings you apply so that you can recreate them in the future. Save a copy of the file whenever you achieve something you are happy with, then go back to your working file.
Why not just collage the towels into your journal? You can of course do that, but I have found that multi-ply paper towels are bulky to add to a journal page. Their multi-ply nature also requires the use of an under- and over-coat of acrylic medium to attach to your page (so they don't peel away). I am deeply committed to the ease of my glue stick (Uhu purple is my favorite).
Also, if you capture your originals by scanning them you can generate multiple sheets of the same "decorative" paper to complete a large project or series or edition.
By scanning and altering in Photoshop you can also fill "holes" in the decoration left by the journal page you were painting over originally. Or you can leave empty spots to be used as the negative space within a "frame."
So look around your workspace and see what other "waste" deserves a second life.