Textures 2018 Class Registration Closes February 3: Why Use Textures?

January 26, 2018
Pentel Brush Pen and gouache sketch on a pre-painting background. (Hand•Book Watercolor Journal.)

I am offering my “Textures: Backgrounds for Visual Journaling and Mixed Media” online again this year. The 2018 class begins on February 3. There are 6 weeks of lessons in which students work through the process of creating backgrounds for their artwork. I share my favorite materials and approaches and provide detailed information on on those materials so that you can branch out and incorporate them in ways that suit your artistic voice.

Click on the above link to read more about the class and to register.

You can see see a short video outlining the types of things we’ll be doing in class here. (Note that this video states the dates for the 2017 class—I’ll learn one day to leave dates out of my videos! The new session begins on February 3, 2018 and registration is already in progress.)

This class was developed from the one-day and weekend workshops I’ve been doing on textures for over 20 years. One of the great things about having a six-week time space is that students get to work with the concepts at home, fitting their work into their lives and their art practice, thus extending the exploration that’s possible. Students are free to watch over six hours of instructional video over and over, to refresh their memories and inspire their experiments. It’s a class that’s open to students of all artistic levels.

Why Do I Use Background Textures?

My very first blog post on October 9, 2008 contained a Graphitint sketch of a peregrine falcon on a pre-painted background. It’s just something I do. (Note when this blog transferred to the new host a page on tearing paper became the first post, but it came later.)

I think it is probably the “quirk” in my artwork that I get asked about the most. Even after 37 years Dick is still asking me about, wait, he doesn’t ask about it any more he just says, “I don’t understand it, but I know you enjoy it.”

But others are always asking why I pre-paint journal pages and the papers and canvases I use for my standalone paintings. I think it can be broken down in the following way.

  1. I love to play with color. I love experimenting with the way paints mix, the way various mediums make textures (sometimes three-dimensional textures). It’s fun. 
  2. Even in the busiest of days I can find time to get a little painting done, so it helps me keep my journaling momentum. If you take time to make some backgrounds, before the day is over you’re going to want to get back into your journal and do some sketching or painting.
  3. I often work in gouache which is an opaque paint, and that looks wonderful on toned backgrounds. I used to do 70 percent of my artwork in color pencils and they POP on color backgrounds with variety visual texturing.
  4. I love working out puzzles. When I turn a journal page and come to a pre-painted background I have to decide what I’m going to do with that background. This pushes me to think compositionally or decide if I’m going to ignore it (either compositionally or just so I can write notes!). 
  5. Even when simply sketching contours a toned and textured background can add depth to a page, shift a mood, or give a sense of dimension that the white of the paper might not do. Here’s a simple brush pen portrait on a toned background. The peachy color gives a sense of flesh tone to the page and the texture of the brush strokes helps the eye move about the page.
  6. When you start work from a toned background that is a midtone it’s easier to move up or down from that midtone for your other values—and it makes your sketching time faster.
  7. I love to do collage. Toned backgrounds are perfect for elevating and enriching a simple collage. Backgrounds are also a fun way to incorporate sketches done on loose sheets into your journal, and use less usual ink colors as you’ll see here.
  8. I am a book artist and I find using my techniques for making decorative paper for my projects creates another level of uniqueness in that work. It makes me happy to crack open a visual journal filled with Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper so I can sketch. I love that I made that book to the exact size and specifications I wanted as a working artist. It’s even more special to me that the decorative paper I’ve used on the cover was made by me. To pick up a book you make with your own decorative papers is like getting a great, warm hug. It helps create a great mood to sketch and create in.
  9. Creating textures sets up a way of looking at my journal and my art practice without scarcity. I can make a mess, use paper up. I can even create the best texture ever and use if for a horrible sketch—and nothing happens except that I get to make more textures and more sketches. It is a very freeing way to live. Full of breath! Here’s a page spread on which I painted over a texture and embraced the mess.
  10. But it all comes down to play—not just playing with color, but playing with the page, jostling things up. When we jostle things up we put ourselves in position to make wonderful discoveries.

Are Background Textures For Everyone?

No. For some people the blank white paper of the page will always be welcoming them to make their crisp or colorful work. Whatever textures they want, they want to build them from the ground up to go with the idea they are bringing to the sketchbook or painting. They don’t worry about creating problems for themselves to solve. For them simply sitting down (or standing) to sketch is enough.

Still others don’t like the visual chaos textures can create.

The second question I get asked a lot after, “Why do you use background textures?” is “Why should I use background textures?”

I can’t answer that question for anyone else. I can only give you a list of reasons why I love to make background textures.

What I can suggest is that you stop and ask yourself why you’re asking such questions. Something is pulling you. So maybe you need to ask, “Why do I feel I need a background?” You might enjoy reading this short post about shifting your energy with background textures.

So while I can’t answer whether background textures are for you, or answer why you might be drawn to them, or why you feel you should use them, I can say that if you are interested in working with background textures you can explore that interest in my Textures: Backgrounds for Visual Journaling and Mixed Media online class, which begins on February 3, 2018.



    • Jeanne
    • March 21, 2018

    Yuo have enjoyed using the Montana acrylic markers, especially on your backgrounds. Have you gotten a chance to play with this new art toy, gouache sticks? I bet you would have a lot of fun with them.

    1. Reply

      Jeanne, I have not tried the Genius Artyst Solid Goauche stick, and I don’t intend to do so until they are available in open stock.

      I have used the Playcolor Tempera Paint Sticks, which is a similar product, though NOT water-soluble.

      And I have used various water-soluble sticks, from Neocolor II water-soluble wax pastels to woodless watercolor pencils, to Faber-Castell Gelatos (which are a waterproof stick of watercolor type material), to Tim Holtz’s similar sticks. And also watercolor sticks from both Daniel Smith and Cheap Joe’s.

      Some of the items are lightfast and artist quality and some not, but still fun to play with.

      The problem I have with the sticks like this gouache stick you mention is that they are not full of product. Each stick when extended fully fills less than half of the physical stick. (I have read reviews on this, and this is also true with the Faber-Castell and Tim Holtz products.)

      I find this very deceptive. The impression is that you are getting a lot more “paint” than you are.

      Many of these products get used up quickly by sketching because they go on so smoothly. So for someone who likes to sketch large like I do I could run through one of these sticks in one or two drawings.

      When you don’t have open stock available that means that you quickly run through your favorite go-to colors and are left with many items unused, but now have to buy a whole new set to keep working!

      If the product you mention was available in open stock I would buy my favorite warm and cool primaries and test them, but until then I’m going to have to pass.

      I have way more fun than should be legal with Schmincke gouache. I encourage you to try it too.

      Since I typically don’t like all the colors in a set I don’t buy sets as a general rule, and when they are this type of item I really can’t see the point of spending over $100 for something that may last only a couple sketches.

      I would recommend that you avoid them as well. $100 will go a long way to buying several tubes of quality gouache out of which you’ll get maybe several hundred paintings AND at any time you’ll be able to buy a replacement tube when you run out of your favorite color.

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