Making Decorative Paper out of Waste Paper

June 26, 2011

Above: Paper towels which have been used as protective sheets while painting background textures on journal spreads.

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.

PapertowelTextureComp 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.

    • Melanie K.
    • June 26, 2011

    I love your tips and tricks for making multi-layered pages … thanks!

  1. Reply

    Melanie, I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I hope you can do something fun with your paper towels! or waste paper!

    Thanks for reading and writing in.

    • Marsha Micek
    • July 1, 2011

    Love this idea.

    In addition to saving original scans in a separate folder, I recommend appending _scan to the file name so you lessen the chance of your altering it by mistake.

  2. Reply

    Marsha, I think adding “_scan” is a great idea for an additional safety measure. I have typically named things one way, with the date included, and then when I make the changes I add things to the title like CR (for cropped). Often I add “raw” to a name if I haven’t done anything to it yet, but I like the use of your nomenclature better as a path to consistency! Thanks.

    • ambal
    • July 1, 2011

    Roz, I really love watercolor and inks so at first I was bummed about not being able to use the paper towel. Instead I think i’ll scan them and play with them there. That gives me incentive to learn photo editing software. And, thanks for the idea on printing out to cloth. Nice way to make backgrounds for fabric art. Thank you as usual for a good post. Ambal

  3. Reply

    Ambal—Well it’s always fun to play around with Photoshop. Printing to cloth can be particularly fun if you’re going to make your own books. I have instructions on the blog for making your own bookcloth. You’ll have to use the search engine though as I don’t recall what I called the article.

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